Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Bulletin: Hand (with a badge) in the cookie jar? The Connecticut Law Tribune reports that the discovery that of seized drugs stored in police evidence rooms had been tampered could affect dozens of prosecutions in Connecticut: Defense lawyers get letters about alleged mishandling of drugs by police;

"Alleged improprieties involving seized drugs held in the New London Police Department's evidence room are affecting dozens of cases in southeastern Connecticut. Several New London-area defense attorneys report having received letters from the state indicating evidence in a particular defendant's case may have been compromised. They have been told to direct questions to the New London State's Attorney's office. Some defense attorneys said clients' drug charges are being dropped. In some instances where a defendant had already entered a guilty plea, efforts are underway to reopen their cases. Sections. Anthony Basilica, a New London defense lawyer, has received letters from prosecutors in reference to about 10 of his clients. The letters say evidence has been compromised, according to Basilica. He said cases have been put on hold while they are reviewed. Basilica expects charges against defendants in cases where evidence was compromised to be nolled, unless there is an underlying or additional charge that wasn't drug-related..........State Police spokesman Tyler Weerden said the State Police Major Crime Squad is investigating the circumstances at the request of the New London State's Attorney's office. No charges have been filed. New London Police Chief Margaret Ackley said MacDonald resigned from his position after initially being put on administrative leave because of the investigation. Ackley said MacDonald had been assigned to the evidence room on a temporary basis........."I know [State Police] have more interviews to do and need to get information from our officers on what transpired," said Ackley, who noted she was out on leave when the alleged problems were discovered. "I don't have a report yet on what evidence is missing or was tampered with. When we have any issues, we contact the State's Attorney's office, who said there needed to be an outside investigation, and ordered that to happen. It is out of our hands at this point." When asked about the scope and impact of any evidence problems, Ackley said, "I don't know—it could be very minor or massive. We hope the investigation is over soon, because we are all waiting with bated breath for that answer.".........Supervisory Assistant Public Defender Sean Kelly, who works in Superior Court in New London, said his office has been working in conjunction with prosecutors to help determine all the defendants who have been affected. "This one officer has really created a scenario where public trust has certainly been compromised," Kelly said. "As soon as the State's Attorney's office found out about it, they brought it to our attention." To date, 77 clients represented by his office or special public defenders are known to be affected, though Kelly said more defendants could be found through the police's investigation. The 77 cases include those that are pending, those where defendants are in a diversionary program and those where there has already been a conviction.........In many affected cases, the defendants had already had their cases disposed of, such as by entering guilty pleas. Kelly said a number of convicted clients have inquired about their cases after hearing of the New London police situation. These cases are being assigned to a post-conviction unit within the Office of the Chief Public Defender for review, according to Kelly. One potential avenue is reopening some individual cases due to new information, he said. Attorney Sebastian DeSantis of New London said he has received one letter from the state regarding a client. "They are reviewing everything on a case-by-case basis," DeSantis said......... Todd Fernow, director of the Criminal Law Clinic at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said if a problem with evidence deprives the state of its ability to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, he wouldn't be surprised if cases get nolled or if defense attorneys move to dismiss the charges. "If there is loss or destruction of evidence the state needs, it could be a big problem for the state," Fernow said.In the cases where a defendant has pleaded guilty, Fernow said it may be challenging to change it afterward. "Once you admit possession of a drug, your admission can be held against you, but I can also see the argument that a plea bargain was made based on the belief that evidence existed," Fernow said. "