Saturday, March 07, 2009

Local: San Jose Police Withheld Uncertainties in Fingerprint Cases

Tracy Kaplan writes on The Mercury News:

For years, San Jose police never told anyone when fingerprint technicians could not agree about whether a suspect's prints matched those taken from the crime scene.

Instead, the police department's Central Identification Unit generated a report indicating that two technicians agreed the suspect's prints had been positively identified, while omitting that a third technician dissented.

The police stuck to that policy even after prosecutors and outside experts warned them they could not legally withhold the information from defense attorneys, and urged them to change their procedures. Last month, the department finally finished a slow-paced review dating back to mid-2007 and overhauled the policy so that the doubts are reflected, soon after the Mercury News filed Public Record Act requests about the issue.

"They were trying to suppress favorable evidence to the defense, it's clear as day," said Michael Kresser, director of the Sixth District Appellate Program. "How any law enforcement agency didn't understand that that is not legal is beyond me," said Kresser, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court mandate in Brady vs. Maryland that members of the prosecution team must provide defense attorneys with any evidence that could potentially help their clients.

The revelation of the withheld evidence comes on the heels of a controversy about withheld medical examination videotapes of children believed to be victims of sexual abuse; the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is belatedly notifying defense attorneys in hundreds of cases that ended in conviction, dating back to 1991, that videotapes that potentially could help their clients exist.

More here.


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