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Criminal defense attorneys going up against DNA evidence can get information about the accuracy of San Francisco’s DNA testing procedures, a superior court judge ruled Thursday. In a tentative ruling that applies to eight felony cases, Superior Court Judge Mary Morgan ordered the district attorney’s office to produce “any and all documentation” from the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab related to lab machinery six months before and after each case. She also ordered access to logs at the lab that document “unexpected or unusual occurrences” or contaminated evidence. The tentative ruling follows a lengthy battle by the S.F. public defender’s office to open the DNA testing process to scrutiny. Bicka Barlow, a deputy public defender hired last year as the office’s resident DNA expert, said she was “very happy” with the ruling. “[Morgan] gave us pretty much what we asked for,” Barlow said. The judge will also allow defense attorneys to visit the SFPD Crime Lab and examine “internal validation studies” related to their cases and request copies of those studies. They can now request copies of files related to testing discrepancies and correction actions. If the crime lab doesn’t have any of the requested documents, the lab director must say so in a declaration under penalty of perjury. Morgan did not elaborate heavily on the reasons behind her ruling, but said she made it after much “thoughtful analysis” and did not intend to allow “blanket perusals” of DNA testing procedures. The judge scheduled a Monday court date to hear feedback on her decision, but seemed certain of her stance. “It’s not a tentative ruling with regard to the subject matter,” she said. “We want to make sure the wording is understood by everyone to mean the same thing.” Assistant District Attorney Braden Woods, who fought the discovery motion for the district attorney’s office, did not return calls for comment. DA spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh said the agency was concerned about case delays but would abide by the judge’s ruling, expressing confidence in the lab’s work. “We didn’t want a delay in our cases,” Mesloh said. “Timely justice, that was our main concern.” One thing defense attorneys didn’t get were lab audits. Such documents are important, Barlow said, “because [they reveal] a lot about how the lab works.” Still, public defenders say the ruling is significant and they believe it will lead to a standing order for all DNA-related criminal cases. “I think it is good news,” said Mark Iverson, a deputy public defender who is representing Kenneth Crain, recently charged in a 1979 rape and murder case because of DNA evidence. “How good is the science? That’s really what you’re able to investigate with this ruling,” he said. Of the eight cases, most are old, or “cold hit,” cases. Defendants include Darrell Sweigart, charged in the 1976 rape and stabbing death of a 19-year-old woman. Others are more recent, such as Ruben Bill Jr., who was tied to the 2002 killing of a San Francisco businessman through DNA evidence and stolen credit cards. Morgan’s tentative ruling was in line with a previous decision. The judge in September granted audits, relativity studies and other records to a defense attorney in an armed robbery case. It’s unclear what documents defense attorneys in the eight cases will receive. Prosecutors have argued in court that the lab doesn’t keep a log for unusual occurrences. But Mesloh said the district attorney’s office welcomed the ruling. “We believe these requests are reasonable, and we’re happy to comply with them,” she said.

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