How S.F. Crime Lab Worker’s Past Has Shaken Justice System


A scandal that has shaken San Francisco’s criminal justice system and rocked the race for California attorney general began with a criminalist who allegedly stole drugs from a police laboratory, reports the Los Angeles Times. Investigators said Deborah Madden, a longtime Police Department criminalist who testified for the prosecution in scores of cases, told them she skimmed cocaine from the lab to help her quit drinking. She also implicated other analysts in sloppy investigative work.

The revelation that reverberated most was about Madden’s past: She had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2008, a fact known to her supervisor but never revealed to prosecutors or defense lawyers when she testified. “It was kind of a like a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” said Jeff Adachi, the elected head of the Public Defender’s office. “The police weren’t telling and the district attorney wasn’t asking.” Madden’s admissions have prompted prosecutors to dismiss 700 pending drug cases and the police to shut down the drug lab. “You have a duty to turn over evidence that is exculpatory that is in your possession, but you don’t have a duty to find it,” said UC Hastings Law Professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor. He estimated that 90 percent of prosecutor’s offices in the U.S. have no system for determining whether law enforcement witnesses have records that should be disclosed.

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