Friday, May 21, 2010 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — In a 26-page ruling, a Superior Court judge lays responsibility for hundreds of dismissed drug cases squarely at the feet of the District Attorney, stating prosecutors hid behind a procedural mechanism after failing multiple times to disclose evidence involving SFPD witnesses.
In her May 17 order, which compels the disclosure of certain crime lab-related documents in 60 narcotics cases, Judge Anne-Christine Massullo details a systematic withholding by prosecutors of evidence of misconduct in the crime lab and among SFPD employees. Defense attorneys and their clients are entitled to the material under Brady v. Maryland.
District Attorney Kamala Harris has said that her office could not conduct background checks on Madden — or more than 80 police officers who were later revealed to have criminal or misconduct records — because of confidentiality rules surrounding police employees.
But in her ruling, Massullo dismisses the explanation, noting it is contrary to all case law and stating that prosecutors—not police—are ultimately responsible for turning over the information.
“…the District Attorney cannot hide from her affirmative obligation behind a procedural mechanism designed for a separate and unrelated purpose,” Massullo wrote.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the judge’s decision reinforces that there is no excuse for the District Attorney’s failure to disclose police background checks or information regarding evidence tampering in the lab.
“This ruling blows huge holes in the DA’s claim that she cannot run background checks due to the confidentiality of police officer records,” Adachi said. “Withholding this critical evidence from the defense violated the Constitutional rights of hundreds or perhaps thousands of people charged with crimes.”
Adachi said that his office would have to begin reviewing cases of individuals whose convictions may be set aside because evidence of police officer misconduct was not disclosed by prosecutors. Adachi has asked Harris to provide the records of the officers, but has received no response.
Massullo noted that by at least Nov. 19, 2009, “individuals at the highest levels of the District Attorney’s Office knew that Madden was not a dependable witness at trial and there were serious concerns regarding the Crime Lab.”
Not only did the District Attorney lack a Brady policy regarding SFPD witnesses, “Its failure to produce information actually in its possession regarding the Crime Lab is a violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights,” Massullo wrote.
Adachi said that the Public Defender’s office would begin demanding that the District Attorney comply immediately with Massullo’s order in all criminal cases.