Judge issues scathing ruling in drug lab scandal

May 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is more trouble for San Francisco's embattled crime lab. Specifically, how prosecutors handled the problems. On Thursday, a judge issued a scathing ruling accusing the district attorney of violating suspects' constitutional rights. That decision could affect hundreds of cases.

The district attorney's office says it has concerns about the judge's legal analysis and will address those through court motions. San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi says the ruling should compel prosecutors to turn over information he has requested and is still waiting for.

"This is about the integrity of our justice system," says Adachi.

He calls the court ruling huge. It blasts District Attorney Kamala Harris and her office for failing to turn over damaging evidence about Debbie Madden.

Madden is the retired police drug lab technician, who used to testify against drug suspects and is now accused of skimming cocaine from the lab. She was convicted of domestic violence back in 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that kind of information must be given to the defense.

"If you were accused and a witness testified against you and you weren't told the truth about that witness' background, how might that affect the verdict in your case? How might that affect your sentence?" asks Adachi.

In her ruling Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo says the district attorney's "failure to produce information actually in its possession regarding Madden and the Crime Lab is a violation of the defendants' constitutional rights."

However, the judge declined to toss out 60 cases saying dismissal is a remedy of last resort. The district attorney's office calls that a victory.

"At the end of the day, the bottom line is the judge did not dismiss any of the cases and that's exactly what we as the DA's office hoped for," says district attorney spokesperson Erica Derryck.

But according to ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson, this is a wake-up call for district attorneys throughout the state.

"It's now up to prosecutor to go to the police, to go through their personnel files, and to find out what might be in there that would be potentially helpful for the defense. It's in some way a revolution in the criminal justice system if this ruling is upheld," says Johnson.

Johnson says many district attorneys felt state law allowed them to protect the privacy of police and others who work in law enforcement. This judge has clearly said no and the public defender now wants information on dozens of San Francisco police officers he says have criminal records.


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