After the state of California declined to prosecute a former crime lab technician for drug crimes said to have arisen from her employment, the federal government stepped in and is trying to enforce a little-used federal criminal statute to charge the 29-year ex-employee. The 61-year-old woman has been formally accused of obtaining illegal drugs by fraud or misrepresentation. She has pleaded not guilty to the purported drug crimes, and her attorney says his client's conduct does not even constitute a federal crime.
The case came to light in late 2009, when small amounts of cocaine were found missing from testing samples at the police lab at Hunters Point. In 2010, the accused woman is alleged to have admitted taking portions of the samples home for her own personal use. She resigned her position, and authorities claim hundreds of drug crimes cases were dismissed as a result of misconduct in the lab. However, California officials declined to prosecute the woman, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to prove she stole the drugs.
The woman's attorney argues that the federal law cited is rarely used and not applicable to this case. The attorney says the client received the drugs legally and cannot be held accountable for stealing them. He points to what he describes as the leading case interpreting the relevant statute, involving a doctor said to have siphoned morphine prescribed for a patient. Because the doctor had obtained the drugs legally to administer to the patient, an appeals court determined he could not be found guilty of stealing them -- a logic the woman's lawyer says applies to his client.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Ex-SF lab tech pleads not guilty to cocaine charge," Bob Egelko, Dec. 8, 2011