Prosecutors are reviewing as many as 3,000 drug investigations going back to 2013 after Colorado Springs police discovered a glitch in the system they use to send reports to the District Attorney's Office, although what, if any, effect it could have on convictions has yet to be determined.
The department announced Thursday that some documents associated with thousands of cases filed by the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence multijurisdictional drug task force were not turned over to the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office because of the issue with the electronic filing system.
Police have said it was an inadvertent error, and that the files were "primarily administrative."
It's not up to police to determine what information may be helpful to a case, Colorado State Public Defender Douglas Wilson said Friday. By law, the defense is entitled to know about the prosecution's case before trial or a plea is entered. Slight discrepancies in witness accounts - such as what color vehicle was seen leaving the scene of a crime - could change the defense, Wilson said.
"It's kind of like the fox guarding the hen house," Wilson said.
"The extent of exculpatory evidence depends on the defense attorney, right?"
The District Attorney's Office declined to answer questions about the audit's finding and the effect it might have on cases. The local public defender's office did not return calls for comment.
Failure to share evidence against the defendant - discovery - can result in a mistrial, as seen in March of last year when an El Paso County judge scrapped a rape trial after learning prosecutors did not turn over as many as 15 police reports. The inadvertent lapse was blamed on a glitch in a pilot project used by the DA's Office to store and distribute evidence.
However, the Police Department doesn't believe the supplemental reports rise to that level, spokesman Lt. Howard Black said.
He said the term "administrative" applies to information that "might not even be directly related to the case," and is instead a product of law enforcement's requirement to document everything. For example, those reports could include officers saying they checked on a vehicle in the impound lot or received inquiries about the case, he said.
"It's not full reports, but supplemental reports," Black said.
Those reports should be attached to the official case report, which would be sent as a package to the DA, but instead they sat unnoticed, Black said. When officers sent the reports through the electronic Law Enforcement Report Management System (LERMS) to specialized units for follow-up, "they looked like something different," and were never opened, Black explained.
The error was discovered in early February as part of an internal audit, and is believed to be limited to Metro VNI, police said. The division operates under CSPD but includes officers from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Teller County Sheriff's Office, Fountain Police Department and Woodland Park Police Department.
As a result, CSPD and the DA are evaluating all Metro VNI cases filed since 2013 and "resubmitting the entire case files to the DA's Office to ensure all of the information is provided to the defendants," police said in a news release.
The department said it has since made changes in the LERMS system to remedy the error while the review continues.
LERMS was approved for use at CSPD in 2011 and implemented in 2012, according to CSPD's annual reports.
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