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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

[CA] Bad cops, Bad cops, What's the D.A. gonna do? - More than 80 reasons for zero-tolerance.

 The Chronicle reported Tuesday that more than 80 officers have convictions, arrests or disciplinary records that, by law, should have been revealed to defense attorneys, who could use the information to challenge their credibility as witnesses if they testified in trials... "For them to shield, essentially, police officers, who are often their star witnesses in these cases, is not only inexcusable but unethical," said [San Francisco Public Defender Jeff] Adachi... The chief said ... that before he could hand over a list of officers' names to the district attorney, the state Department of Justice must run checks on all 2,000 San Francisco police officers to see whether they have arrests or convictions...

PUBLIC DEFENDER, D.A. SPAR ON COPS' TESTIMONY
The San Francisco Chronicle
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
[Excerpts] San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi accused District Attorney Kamala Harris on Tuesday of "unethical" conduct for not having researched the backgrounds of police officers whose criminal and misconduct histories were unknown to the defense in cases in which they testified. Harris responded that Adachi's comments were "irresponsible" and that his assertion that hundreds of convictions could be jeopardized by the failure amounted to "wild speculation" and "playing politics with public safety." The Chronicle reported Tuesday that more than 80 officers have convictions, arrests or disciplinary records that, by law, should have been revealed to defense attorneys, who could use the information to
challenge their credibility as witnesses 
if they testified in trials. Harris' office, which is legally obligated to hand over such records, never asked the Police Department for them, and police never volunteered the information... "For them to shield, essentially, police officers, who are often their star witnesses in these cases, is not only inexcusable but unethical," said Adachi... "This is either a systematic failure, which would suggest gross malfeasance, or unethical behavior if they knew that these police witnesses had prior convictions"... He said he has sent a letter to Harris demanding the officers' names... Harris countered with her own news conference later Tuesday in which she said it was too early to determine how extensive the damage would be... "It's irresponsible to incite fear, especially when there is no credible information about the number of officers that are involved or the number of cases that are involved"... Police Chief George Gascón, who appeared alongside the district attorney at her news conference, said the number has not been established... The chief said that now that prosecutors have a policy, the Police Department is working on its own disclosure policy and it is a "top priority." He added, however, that before he could hand over a list of officers' names to the district attorney, the state Department of Justice must run checks on all 2,000 San Francisco police officers to see whether they have arrests or convictions... [Full article here]

S.F. COPS' PASTS COULD JEOPARDIZE CONVICTIONS
The San Francisco Chronicle
Jaxon Van Derbeken
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
[Excerpts] More than 80 San Francisco police officers have criminal histories or misconduct records that the Police Department withheld and prosecutors did not disclose to defense attorneys in cases in which officers testified, a failure that could put hundreds of felony convictions in jeopardy, The Chronicle has learned. The potential fallout could be far more severe than that caused by the cocaine-skimming scandal at the San Francisco police drug lab, which prompted prosecutors to dismiss more than 600 narcotics cases, experts say. "We are not potentially talking about possession of cocaine cases - we are potentially talking about very serious felonies," said Lael Rubin, a prosecutor with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office who oversees that county's disclosure process and leads training seminars on the subject for prosecutors in California. "Depending on the nature of the failure to disclose (an officer's crimes) and the officer's role in the particular case, it could result in very serious cases being tossed out and serious offenders being released on the street," Rubin said. "This is huge," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose lawyers represent the majority of felony defendants tried in the city. "It will make the problems at the crime lab look like small potatoes"... Police Chief George Gascón said he is "obviously concerned" about his department's failure to disclose the officers' histories. "I want to make sure the Police Department adheres to both its ethical and legal obligations"... Under the law, prosecutors are responsible for alerting defense attorneys when any witness, including a police officer, has been arrested or convicted for a broad range of crimes, or accused of misconduct for such disciplinary offenses as lying during internal affairs interviews. Police officers can keep their jobs even if they have been convicted of misdemeanors, but their histories must be disclosed so defense lawyers have the opportunity to discredit their testimony on the basis of their character... That has already proved problematic in the case of Deborah Madden, the retired civilian technician at the police crime lab suspected of skimming narcotics evidence. Madden was convicted of
misdemeanor domestic violence 
in 2008 and went on to testify in an unknown number of criminal trials. Harris' office never ran a check on her record and did not tell defense attorneys about her conviction, and several lawyers whose clients were found guilty are now seeking to have those cases overturned... Federal prosecutors did ask the Police Department about Madden as part of a drug-racketeering murder case last year, according to U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, but the department did not tell them about her criminal record... In mid-April, Judge Anne-Christine Massullo confronted Harris' prosecutors on the Madden issue and asked if the office had a written policy. Chief Assistant District Attorney Russ Giuntini then wrote a letter to Gascón saying a Police Department lawyer had revealed April 6 that there were more than 30 officers with criminal histories that would have to be disclosed... A subsequent, more comprehensive police review has so far turned up roughly 80 officers... The officers' names have not been released. Harris' office has yet to receive a complete list, so prosecutors have no idea how many of the officers have testified against people who eventually were convicted... The head of the police officers union, Gary Delagnes, said he is in talks with Gascón to develop a policy of what must be disclosed to defense attorneys. "We'll be part of the solution," Delagnes said... Defense attorneys are legally entitled to be informed when police officers testifying in trials have been arrested or convicted of certain criminal offenses or accused of misconduct... Convictions or arrests for the following crimes must be disclosed: criminal accessory after the fact, arson, assault with a deadly weapon or assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, auto theft, battery on a peace officer, auto or commercial burglary, contributing to delinquency of a minor, child abuse, evading a police officer,
domestic violence, 
forgery, grand theft, receiving stolen property, indecent exposure, making criminal threats.[Full article here]
[police officer involved domestic violence credibility history]

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