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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Read the DA's Appeal of Judge's Order Unsealing DNA Lab Memo

Posted By on Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 8:15 AM

George Gascón
  • George Gascón

As expected, the office of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón on Monday filed an appeal of a judge's order that prosecutors share with defense lawyers an internal memo criticizing the San Francisco Police Department crime lab.

The memo, authored by veteran prosecutor Rockne Harmon, a former consultant on DNA evidence to the DA's office, is believed to find fault with DNA-analysis procedures at the crime lab. Harmon, who no longer works for the DA, has said he believes it should be released.

While prosecutors' writ to the state appeals court is technically a sealed document -- presumably because since it contains some of the same information from the memo that the DA's office wants to keep under wraps -- a redacted version of it is available as a public record. You can read it here.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Charles Haines ruled that the memo contains exculpatory information and thus must be shared with James Mayfield, a defendant who prosecutors allege brutally murdered a young sculptor in 1976. The case against Mayfield is based almost entirely on DNA evidence in the form of a "cold hit" match between crime-scene evidence and his genetic profile.

Haines stayed his order until this week to give prosecutors the chance to seek review from the state appeals court, which they have now done. Their arguments in the writ of appeal echo their past assertions that Harmon's memo is exempt from disclosure as attorney "work product," or raw thoughts and opinions.

Assistant District Attorney Braden Woods also argues in the appeal that Haines abused his judicial discretion by not allowing the DA's office to review a transcript of a lengthy interview he conducted in chambers with Harmon prior to his ruling. That transcript is scheduled to be released with the memo, but Woods argues that prosecutors -- and not defense attorneys -- should be given exclusive access to it ahead of time to help prepare an appeal of Haines' decision.

As The Recorder reported last week, some experts believe the likelihood the state appeals court will overturn Haines' decision is not great. In the meantime, Gascón's opponents in the DA's race are trying to make political hay from the issue, criticizing the interim DA for a lack of transparency and for using the appeal process to prevent the memo's disclosure before this fall's election.

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Peter Jamison


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