Drug trials postponed amid crime lab scruitiny

March 12, 2010 6:48:23 PM PST
The scandal involving possible evidence tampering at the San Francisco Police Crime Lab has taken a new turn. Prosecutors are fighting to stop drug cases from being dropped because of it. A San Francisco judge refused to dismiss 35 drug cases even though the evidence in those cases may have been tampered with.

Defendants in court Friday, all charged with drug possession, were hoping their cases would be thrown out because of accusations a lab worker took small amounts of cocaine from evidence containers. Instead, the judge ordered the district attorney's office to retest the samples that may have been tampered with.

"It's to run a chemical analysis to determine, for instance, if the crack cocaine seized is in fact crack cocaine," said district attorney spokesperson Brian Buckelew.

However, the San Francisco Police Crime Lab where Debbie Madden worked is closed pending an audit. So no tests can be done there.

"So what [the judge] did instead was, he put a placeholder out a week from now after talking to the district attorney's office and we anticipate we'll be ready in a week," said Buckelew.

San Francisco has asked four labs in the Bay Area to retest this evidence and test new samples coming in from arrests made in the last few days. The San Mateo County Forensic Lab will be the first one to begin testing some of that evidence. The Oakland Police Department has a lab and the other two are located in Santa Clara and Alameda counties. Each lab will process between seven and 15 cases a day for San Francisco.

"Basically, an analyst can do about eight to 12 cases a day," said San Mateo County Forensic Lab director Jim Granucci. "So it's basically an additional day's work for the analyst."

Any overtime costs will be billed to San Francisco County. If the evidence against these men and women is not ready to be presented by next Friday, their attorneys will ask to have the charges dismissed.

"I was hoping that today they would dismiss the trial, but actually they are just postponing it 'til next Friday," said Anna Davis, accused of drug possession.

"As a defense lawyer you always hope for a dismissal of a case, of course," said public defender Carmen Aguirre.


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