Former SF police lab tech faces June trial for cocaine theft charge 

click to enlarge Deborah Madden faces a June 18 trial date for a federal charge of obtaining cocaine by subterfuge in 2009. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Deborah Madden faces a June 18 trial date for a federal charge of obtaining cocaine by subterfuge in 2009.

A federal judge in San Francisco on Friday set a trial date of June 18 for a former San Francisco police crime laboratory technician accused of stealing cocaine from the facility.

Deborah Madden, 61, of San Mateo, was indicted in December on a federal charge of obtaining cocaine by of fraud, deception or subterfuge in 2009. The charge carries a possible maximum sentence of four years in prison if she is convicted.

The date for the trial, estimated to last one week, was set by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston.

Prosecutor Andrew Caputo told the judge that a plea bargain does not appear likely.

"Both sides agree a trial is going to be necessary. It is not going to be resolved," Caputo said.

Madden, who is free on $25,000 bail while awaiting trial, attended the brief hearing but did not speak.

Her alleged theft of small amounts of cocaine from the lab's drug analysis unit contributed to the Police Department's decision to close the troubled facility and the San Francisco district attorney's dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases that depended on evidence from the unit.

Madden retired in late 2009 after 29 years on the job as a civilian criminalist at the lab.

In a separate case, she pleaded guilty in San Mateo County Superior Court last year to possessing a small amount of cocaine found in her Peninsula home and was sentenced to undergo drug counseling.

Defense attorney Paul DeMeester told Illston today he is considering challenging the federal charge on the ground that the law under which Madden is being prosecuted is beyond Congress's constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.

Whether DeMeester files such a motion, he said, may depend on the U.S. Supreme Court's forthcoming ruling on the constitutionality of the federal Affordable Care Act.

One of several grounds for challenges to the 2010 health care reform law is an argument that its mandate that individuals must buy health insurance exceeds Congress's authority under the Constitution's commerce clause.

"I have looked at the viability of a commerce clause challenge," DeMeester told Illston.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has the health care law challenge before it. It's conceivable that case could have an impact on our case," he said.

The Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on the health care law in March and to issue its ruling by the end of June.

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