Lawyers slam Kamala Harris for withholding evidence as San Francisco DA: Report

September 9, 2019

Kamala Harris is yet again under fire over her troubling record on due process. Lawyers who spoke with The Washington Examiner say that Harris ran afoul of a Supreme Court ruling when she was San Francisco’s district attorney (DA) by withholding exculpatory evidence in an infamous 2010 crime lab scandal. 

For Harris’ critics on the left, it’s just one example in a concerning pattern of neglect toward the rights of the accused.

Flouting SCOTUS

The 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision established that prosecutors must notify defense lawyers of potentially exculpatory evidence, a move that Harris signally failed to take in numerous cases when she was San Francisco’s DA. In the most infamous “Brady case” of Harris’ career, the Democrat earned a stern rebuke from a federal judge for her botched response to a crime lab tech whose misbehaviors led Harris to drop hundreds of cases.

According to SFGATE, the crime lab tech was caught stealing cocaine in 2010. Other undisclosed problems with the technician’s record later surfaced that raised questions about her credibility as a witness, and Harris’ office eventually dropped about 1,000 cases as they scrambled to respond to the controversy.

In a stunning admission, Harris’ office said that they had no specific policy for handling such cases, underscoring her cavalier attitude toward Brady and its protections.

Lawyers who spoke with the Examiner said that Harris’ office clearly violated the Supreme Court’s ruling and defendants’ rights, whatever the excuse. Indeed, New York attorney Craig Trainor said that there is a “clear causal link” between Brady violations and wrongful convictions, and that “rank politics” likely played a role in Harris’ response.

“The reasons for failure to disclose exculpatory evidence range from bad faith to inexperience to excessive caseloads to a tunnel vision to get the ‘guilty defendant’ at all costs to rank politics, as we see in Kamala Harris’ case,” he said.

Failure of duty

The Wall Street Journal reported this year that Harris, in 2005, rejected a push for a clear Brady policy until the crime lab scandal blew up in 2010. At the time, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo rebuked Harris for failing to “have in place policies and procedures designed to discover and produce exculpatory information,” according to National Review.

The judge’s rebuke echoes a common criticism of Harris’ criminal justice record: while posturing as a reformer, Harris fought to uphold wrongful convictions, often by withholding evidence that would otherwise have shown that government witnesses were unreliable. In another famous case, then-attorney general Harris declined to grant Kevin Cooper, an accused murderer on death row from Chino Hills, an additional DNA test that his lawyers say would have exonerated him.

Harris has also been criticized for fighting to uphold numerous wrongful convictions throughout her career that were found to have been based on shaky testimony provided by government witnesses who were misrepresented by the prosecution. For example, Harris fought to keep a wrongfully convicted man in prison for two years after a judge vacated his conviction by arguing that he didn’t file his paperwork on time.

After the crime lab scandal, it came to light that Harris’ office kept a secret list of some 100 law enforcement officials with potential problems — but Harris’ office declined to share that information unprompted with defense lawyers, the Examiner reported. With this, Jason Kreag, a University of Arizona lawyer and former member of the Innocence Project — an organization that fights for wrongfully convicted people — said that Harris failed in her duty as a prosecutor.

“There is no doubt that the prosecutor’s case is impeached when it is built on information from people who have credibility problems, as was the case here,” he said. “When that happens, prosecutors owe a duty to disclose to the defense things that can be used to impeach the state’s case. That was a failure here.”

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.