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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Judge Blames D.A. Kamala Harris for Crime-Lab Scandal

Posted By on Thu, May 20, 2010 at 4:27 PM

D.A. Kamala Harris has some explaining to do
  • D.A. Kamala Harris has some explaining to do
A San Francisco Superior Court judge has blamed San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris for the debacle that has grown out of misconduct at the San Francisco Police Department crime lab, saying Harris' office ignored its constitutional obligation to turn over information about police employees' criminal backgrounds to defense attorneys.

In a 26-page ruling, Judge Anne-Christine Massullo wrote that Harris "failed ... in two respects" to deal adequately with revelations that crime-lab technician Deborah Madden was suspected of stealing portions of cocaine samples and had a criminal history: by not disclosing information the office possessed about Madden, and by not having a general policy in place to inform defense attorneys of past wrongdoing by prosecution witnesses. (Under the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland, such information must be shared, in the event defendants want to challenge witnesses' credibility.)

"The processes mandated by the federal and California constitutions are more important to the maintenance of a free society than the result that may follow in a particular case from the disclosure of exculpatory information," Massullo wrote. "The District Attorney must be more mindful, going forward, of this obligation to due process." Ouch.

Massullo also rejected excuses to the effect that the D.A. had relied on the police department to turn over information about its employees' criminal pasts. Fallout from the Madden scandal is not the fault of the SFPD, Massullo concluded.

"The District Attorney's Office's reliance on the SFPD to disclose exculpatory information was not sufficient," she wrote. "It has long been recognized that it is the prosecutor -- the People's representative in court -- who has the responsibility to put in place procedures to secure and produce exculpatory evidence."

Massullo's ruling was a response to around 60 defendants' petition that their cases be dismissed because Madden's shoddy work could have affected them. The judge rejected that motion -- arguing that the cases must be reviewed on an individual basis -- but ordered that prosecutors turn over relevant documents to defense lawyers.

This news is no benefit to Harris' attorney general campaign, particularly in light of additional revelations that 80 or more SFPD. employees could have criminal backgrounds that might put past convictions at risk.

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Peter Jamison


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