San Francisco prosecutors today admitted in court that they have no formal procedure for getting information about the criminal convictions of Police Department employees to the defense, material that could have been used to challenge drug case evidence tested by the department’s scandal-plagued crime lab.
“Generally, we rely on the Police Department to inform us of that information,” Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo told Judge Anne-Christine Massullo.
Massullo has been ruling on the release of evidence regarding the investigation of San Francisco’s crime lab and former criminalist Deborah Madden to defense attorneys. She agreed today to release more documents, including material from Madden’s confidential personnel file.
Massullo recently asked the district attorney’s office to inform her by today how they receive information about the criminal backgrounds of police witnesses, both sworn officers and civilians.
Madden, 60, was convicted in May 2008 of misdemeanor domestic violence in San Mateo County, where she lives. The crime is considered a moral turpitude offense that defense attorneys could use to impeach her credibility as a witness.
Prosecutors are required by law to turn over exculpatory material including prior arrests and convictions of witnesses for crimes of moral turpitude–to defense attorneys.
The district attorney’s office says it only learned about Madden’s criminal background in late February of this year.
Noting that the rights of criminal defendants was at issue, Massullo told Woo today that saying her office relies on the Police Department to inform them of such offenses “really is not sufficient.”
Massullo said it was the district attorney’s duty to check the background of all the witnesses they call to testify at trial.
“I’m assuming, honestly, that there’s no policy like that,” Massullo said.
Woo acknowledged, “I don’t believe that there’s a written procedure.”
“We know what the law is, and we endeavor to comply with it,” Woo said.
Madden, who went on leave from the lab in December and retired March 1, is accused of taking small quantities of cocaine from evidence samples at the lab in 2009, potentially jeopardizing all the drug cases with which she came into contact.
Prosecutors have already dismissed hundreds of drug cases since police Chief George Gascon ordered the drug lab temporarily closed on March 9.