Trial for woman at center of crime lab scandal begins

San Francisco PD crime lab technician Deborah Madden
September 24, 2012 7:05:11 PM PDT
The trial of a police crime lab worker accused of stealing cocaine which had been confiscated as evidence is getting underway in San Francisco this week. Deborah Madden's case rocked the San Francisco Police Department when it came to light in 2009 and forced a lot of changes.

The assistant U.S. Attorney and Madden's lawyer finished picking the jury Monday afternoon. The six men and six women will hear opening statement's Tuesday.

It's a trial will get a fair amount of attention, but the impact of the case goes far beyond Madden's fate.

Madden, 62, retired from her job as a crime lab technician in late 2009 in the midst of an audit that showed cocaine was missing from the lab. Madden later admitted to police investigators that she took a small amounts of cocaine from the lab.

"I think that her actions brought a lot of discredit and cost San Francisco a lot of money and I think she needs to be responsible to it," Police Chief Greg Suhr said.

The scandal cost San Francisco millions of dollars. As many as 500 criminal cases were dismissed because of missing or tainted evidence.

Police closed the lab's drug testing unit in March 2010. Today it's still closed, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

"The drug lab essentially shut down and all of the drug testing was being outsourced to other labs," Adachi said.

Adachi says that's still happening three years after the scandal broke and it's had an impact on San Francisco's drug enforcement.

"I think one good thing that came out of the whole drug lab scandal is that San Francisco began looking at how it prioritized, particularly the prosecution of drug possession cases," he said.

According to Adachi, police have backed away from "buy-bust" drug cases.

"I'd say 20-30 percent fewer arrests for what they call 'buy-bust' cases where officers are out there making buys of drugs on the streets," he said.

Adachi says now police are looking at treatment instead of jail time and the arrest and prosecution of drug cases has fallen by a significant percentage.

The crime lab has been recertified twice since the scandal broke and the police department which runs the lab says the problems have been corrected.

Now Madden is going to have to answer.

"Obviously it's being taken about as serious as it can be taken it's at a federal trial and Ms. Madden is going to have to answer, as well she should," Suhr said.

Madden's trial is expected to take four days. She's not expected to testify. Her attorney will argue that her actions did not have an element of fraud that would be required for a conviction.


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