Seaford man’s drug conviction overturned

Michael D. Coverdale

GEORGETOWN — Four drug convictions against a Seaford man must be vacated due to a prosecutor’s misrepresentation of a chemist’s departure in 2015, a judge ordered on Tuesday.

Circumstances surrounding the Division of Forensic Science employee’s resignation involved more than just laziness as portrayed by a Deputy Attorney General, and Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes determined a fuller explanation could have affected Michael D. Coverdale’s decision to plead guilty.

The chemist tested narcotics in one of four cases against Mr. Coverdale, and resigned on Feb. 3, 2016 after the DFS cited his “systemic failure to follow laboratory policies and procedures in reference to his testing of suspected drug samples and reporting his findings to the Department of Justice in a timely manner,” the Court found in a 21-page order.

The DFS had notified the chemist of plans to dismiss him on Jan. 20, 2016, but he left voluntarily before the agency took action.

Mr. Coverdale’s defense learned of the resignation in a letter from the prosecution on Feb. 18, 2016, one day before a final case review.

The prosecution argued that the issue was over-stated due to previous misdeeds at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Issues known by the Department of Justice Department regarding the chemist included, according to the Court:

• His work was constantly being returned to him for more editing.

• He did not always rerun drug samples after being told to do so.

• Some cases had to be retested because he was not following the proper testing procedures.

• He did not always list all of the defendants on documents for suspected drug samples that he was testing.

• He was not always candid when confronted about his errors and omissions.

• He was not able to keep up with his workload, resulting in considerable pressure being brought on him by his supervisors to keep up.

• He did not always follow the procedures prohibiting multiple drug lockers from being opened simultaneously.

• He sometimes entered incorrect lot numbers for reagents.

• He did not always put the correct locks on the correct lockers.

• Cases were returned to him because he had not entered the correct information on his reports.

• He did not follow proper procedures when doing his proficiency tests.

• He left evidence unattended on his bench in the laboratory.

“The defense could have used this information to impeach (the chemist) with regards to his testing procedures, his identification of the drugs in defendant’s case, the chain of custody, and (the chemist’s) credibility,” Judge Stokes found.

The judge described the non-disclosures as “substantial misrepresentations” and said the prosecution concealed the material.

Guilty pleas were dismissed in the three cases that the chemist in question did not test, since the charges were all tied together in the case against Mr. Coverdale.

Judge Stokes said a new trial should proceed in all four cases and an office conference was ordered in the Judge’s chambers “so that bond and future scheduling matters may be addressed.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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