Monday, August 23, 2010


I am sure that most people are not aware that the defense in a criminal trial must be told of any past misconduct by officers who will testify for the prosecution. Apparently a lot of police agencies are not aware of this requirement either or worse yet, chose to ignore it.
The San Francisco PD, like the Houston PD, has been embroiled in a scandal with its crime lab. That scandal has brought into question SFPD’s failure to notify prosecutors that officers who will testify for the prosecution had been involved in prior misconduct. Currently there are about 135 SFPD officers with a history of such misconduct.
Now 135 officers with a history of misconduct may seem like a lot, but it really isn’t for a large department. Hardly any officers ever go through their careers without being written up, and in some cases suspended, for one or more acts of misconduct. And while SFPD will not start making the required notifications, I wonder how many other police agencies are failing to do so?
From the August 21 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:
A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case requires that the defense be told about evidence that could cast doubt on a witness' credibility.
In March, Police Chief George Gascón ordered the [San Francisco PD] drug lab shut amid allegations that since-retired lab worker Deborah Madden had taken cocaine sent to the lab for testing.
Revelations that the department had failed to tell prosecutors about Madden's criminal record for domestic violence led to an internal review of police files. That review ultimately determined that as many as 135 police officers had misconduct histories that might be subject to disclosure to defense attorneys if they were summoned to the stand.
Prosecutors have been told that 10 police officers and employees recently summoned to testify in cases have questionable backgrounds.
The department has since created a panel to review the histories of officers going back 30 years. That panel includes retired judge Harry Low and will be tasked with determining whether prosecutors should be alerted to past cases.
So far, the panel has screened as many as 50 officers and found that prosecutors should be alerted to allegations of lying or other misconduct involving some of them.
The panel has met three times, reviewing personnel records of officers with an eye to determining who among them have problematic backgrounds.
It will also review new disciplinary cases as they arise and alert prosecutors even before misconduct cases are resolved before the Police Commission.
The names of those police officers with problematic backgrounds will automatically be given to prosecutors starting Monday. Prosecutors will then act to alert defense lawyers about the credibility issues involving those officers.

No comments: