DNA Lab Fallout: Lawyers Ask Judge to Dismiss Rape Cases Over Sample Switch

Two San Francisco defense attorneys are asking that their clients' rape cases be dismissed because of a DNA sample mix-up -- and its subsequent concealment -- at the San Francisco Police Department crime lab in 2008.

The cases may be the first to be directly affected by the latest lab scandal, which erupted last week in response to mistakes at the lab's DNA section first reported by SF Weekly. The attorneys argue in court papers that their clients' constitutional rights were violated by the District Attorney's failure to turn over records about the sample switch.

Defense lawyer David Wise, an expert in DNA issues, asserts in his motion to dismiss the case of rape suspect Donald Cooper that "there has been an ongoing suppression of exculpatory evidence of wrongdoing within the San Francisco Police Department Crime Laboratory, D.N.A. Section," and that "the S.F.P.D. Crime Laboratory and the San Francisco District Attorney's Office has systematically withheld exculpatory evidence from the Defense."

Attorney Doug Rappaport likewise argues that the rape case against defendant Horacio Candia should be dismissed, noting, "What is unclear at this juncture is the extent of the problems involving DNA testing as well as the ultimate remedy for law enforcement's willful failure to turn over this information."

If the cases are not dismissed, Wise and Rappaport argue, a court hearing should be held at which the extent of problems at the lab can be explored. It is not yet clear which judge would preside over such a hearing, or who will rule on the motions to dismiss.

Those motions come amid further revelations about problems at the lab's DNA section. SF Weekly reported yesterday that Rockne Harmon, an esteemed prosecutor and DNA expert who consulted on DNA issues at the San Francisco DA's office until July of this year, had in March produced a report on misleading testimony in a murder case by the DNA lab's supervisor.

Harmon said he was troubled that the DA's office has not shared that information with defense lawyers, who could potentially use it as exculpatory evidence in cases involving the crime lab's work.

In May, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo issued a ruling criticizing DA Kamala Harris for failing to turn over similar information related to the work of Debbie Madden, a former drug technician at the crime lab who admitted to skimming cocaine evidence for personal use.

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