Kamala Harris - Issues - Police Department Laboratory and Disclosure Failures

Police Department Laboratory and Disclosure Failures

San Francisco Police Department drug lab technician Deborah Madden admitted to taking amounts of cocaine from evidence samples in the police department's crime lab. The testing unit of the police department lab was shut down on March 9, 2010. Since then, hundreds of drug cases have either been dismissed or discharged due to evidentiary requirements. While Harris's office was aware of troubling issues at the police department's drug lab months before the issue became public, the entire scope of the issues did not become clear until Madden was exposed for removing drug samples. The police department later widened the investigation into their crime lab to include cases that were already prosecuted.

On May 4, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a number of felony convictions were in jeopardy when it was revealed that the prosecuting attorneys did not disclose criminal backgrounds for relevant San Francisco police officers before testifying. On May 20, 2010, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that prosecutors had violated defendants' rights by failing to disclose damaging information about the police drug lab technician. The judge concluded that prosecutors had failed to fulfill their constitutional duty to tell defense attorneys about problems surrounding Deborah Madden, the now-retired technician at the heart of the cocaine-skimming scandal that led police to shut down the drug analysis section of their crime lab. Harris's office has been unable to vouch for the reliability of Madden's work and has dismissed more than 600 drug cases since the scandal became public in February. Madden testified at trials before leaving the lab in December. Under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Brady v. Maryland, district attorneys are obligated to provide defense attorneys with information in their possession about prosecution witnesses that could be used to challenge their credibility.

Massullo wrote that top drug prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo's November 19 memo about Madden to Russ Giuntini, Chief Assistant District Attorney, and Jeffrey Ross, head of the criminal division, showed that prosecutors "at the highest levels of the district attorney's office knew that Madden was not a dependable witness at trial and that there were serious concerns regarding the crime lab". The failure by Harris's office "to produce information actually in its possession regarding Madden and the crime lab is a violation of the defendants' constitutional rights," Massullo wrote. The Judge said that the prosecutors had the "duty to implement some type of procedure to secure and produce information relevant to Madden's criminal history." But Massullo said her repeated requests that prosecutors explain why they did not have such procedures were met with "a level of indifference." However, Judge Massullo refused to dismiss any cases, saying that all cases must be considered individually.

On May 26, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco coroner's supervising toxicologist, Ann Marie Gordon, vouched for blood-test results in drunken-driving cases for two years before prosecutors told defense attorneys that a Washington state court had labeled her as a "perpetrator of fraud" while running that state's toxicology lab. San Francisco prosecutors began telling defense attorneys about Gordon's past after the Chronicle reported earlier in May 2010 that scores of police officers had criminal arrests or misconduct cases that were never called to defendants' attention before trials. Prosecutors are obligated to provide potentially exculpatory information about their witnesses to the defense under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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