S.F. Dismisses 25 Drug Cases, Orders Shut Down of Crime Lab

If you're going to be a police crime lab technician whose drug-testing work can put people in jail, it's probably not a good idea to be stealing and sampling the merchandise, i.e., the seized drugs.

Deborah Madden, age 60, a San Francisco crime lab tech for 29 years, has not been charged with a crime. But suspicions she stole and used cocaine from drug evidence have caused
San Francisco to dismiss 25 drug cases.

Madden abruptly retired Dec. 8 after 29 years on the job and has been in treatment recently for drug and alcohol use, officials said. She left the crime lab shortly after an audit discovered that drug evidence was missing, officials said.


While not charged with crimes from the alleged lab misconduct, Madden is facing charges in San Mateo County resulting from a search of her home.

Madden was not supposed to possess a weapon because of a 2008 misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, authorities said.

As to why so many cases were dismissed:

With evidence in cases Madden handled called into question and no technicians available in the now-closed crime lab to test drugs in new cases, prosecutors felt they had no choice but to free Belton and other defendants Wednesday.

However, the defendants may not get a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card.

The remaining drugs will probably be retested with a different analyst, he said, and the cases will be refiled. "Nothing will change," [Madden's attorney Paul ]DeMeester said. District Attorney Kamala Harris' office confirmed that it would seek to refile some of the cases once the drugs can be retested.

I wonder, if the cases are refiled, and the defense moves to have their expert do a quantitative analysis, and the weight of the drugs in the newly filed case doesn't match the weight of the drugs in the police reports from the date of seizure, how will the state prove the drugs in the new case are the substance seized from the defendant? If the weight is different, doesn't that create a reasonable doubt as to whether the tech didn't merely remove drugs from one case to use, but mixed and matched drugs from multiple seizures to cover up her actions?

DA Harris' spokesman says:

"We all acknowledge the right of defendants to be free of evidence that has been tampered with," Buckelew said. "We want to assure that a thorough investigation is conducted and we identify all cases of potential tampering."

I don't know how they can do that.

Another reason for the dismissals: The prosecution didn't reveal Madden's prior domestic violence conviction to the defendants preparing for trial, as they are required to do by discovery rules:

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said his office specifically asked in July whether Madden had any relevant convictions and that there had been "no evidence forthcoming."

Another issue: Is the new audit going to be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Adachi demanded that an outside investigation of the crime lab be launched. The police-requested audit isn't good enough, he said, because the Police Department is picking the auditor.

And, if Madden has been tampering with the drug evidence, for how long? What about those defendants in jail based on drugs tested during her tenure?

Defendants found guilty more than a couple of years ago cannot challenge their convictions, Adachi said, because drug evidence used in cases before 2008 has been destroyed.

Finally, suspicions about Madden came to light 3 months ago. Why did the DA's office wait so long to disclose it?

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    comment deleted (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Mar 12, 2010 at 12:13:17 AM EST
    due to long link that skewed the site. Please read the comment rules and post urls in html format.

    Then again... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 12, 2010 at 08:13:43 AM EST
    if dope is your bag, and you don't have a conscience that prevents you from getting high on someone's elses stolen stash...I can't think of a better job than crime lab tech or police officer.

    Corruption...another wonderful side effect of prohibition.

    Let's hope that good does come of this, and 25 pow's are permanently freed because of the actions of this corrupt s.o.b.

    What About... (none / 0) (#5)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Mar 12, 2010 at 08:21:58 AM EST
    the convicts she helped secure ?

    What a perfect spot for an addict, basically unlimited dope.  Seems like she would have been better off swapping the drugs with something else and then declaring that the substance wasn't dope.  Imagine the defendants surprise.