Board that oversees Calif. crime labs disbanded


The Attorney General's Office says the California Crime Lab Task Force could possibly come back next year, but for now, it's out of business after the 17-member panel of experts suddenly voted to disband.

At the San Francisco public defender's office, the boxes are filled with cases that had to be dropped because of serious problems with the city's crime lab -- 800 criminal prosecutions went out the window for the time being.

And now, so is the state task force created to oversee California's troubled crime labs.

"The task force came up with 41 recommendations as to how to improve the problems that we're seeing with crime labs and now we're going to disband. This is a disaster for the state of California," San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi said.

The poster child for the worst problem is in San Francisco, where former supervising criminalist Deborah Madden is under investigation for stealing drugs that were being held as evidence.

Three years ago, the state legislature created a task force made up of prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement to improve how crime labs operate. But now members of that task force have voted to disband.

The people behind that move were the lab directors themselves, who claim their own accreditation group can do the job of oversight.

"You can't have the fox guarding the henhouse and that's what's happening here," Adachi said.

"I think that's like asking the foxes to guard the chicken coop. It's these lab directors on whose watch this crisis has occurred," ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson said.

Johnson also says prosecutors will be at a serious disadvantage in court if crime labs are flawed.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr was a member of the task force, but did not take part in the vote to disband.

She says the group did its job by making recommendations and wanted to wait for new rules coming out of Washington.

"And what can come out of that is federal funding and federal regulations that would govern crime labs across the country," Carr said.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris says her office will review cases that were tossed out and may re-file charges.

That crime lab commission was created three years ago when it was discovered that more than 250 million DNA samples from California criminals had not been tested.

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