A crime laboratory plays an integral role in the criminal justice system as it’s where crime evidence related to a variety of crimes is gathered, documented and analyzed. Almost any particle, speck or substance may provide information to help track down criminals or solve crimes. Crime lab equipment and facilities are expected to be top notch , and crime lab technicians and analysts are expected to be qualified and well-trained to handle their job.
There are minimum criteria for a crime lab to be considered reliable. However, recently some serious deficiencies were uncovered at the St. Paul Crime Lab, which brings into question whether Minnesota has proper standards and procedures in place when it comes to handling scientific crime evidence.
Reliability of drug testing performed at St. Paul crime lab in question
Over a month ago, the training and practices of the St. Paul Crime Lab employees in Dakota County were challenged by two criminal defense lawyers. They argued that the flaws raised casted doubts on the reliability of the drug testing for criminal cases performed and put many drug cases in jeopardy. The attorneys have specifically challenged the reliability of test results of 8 cases in Dakota County. The challenge was backed by testimony from several lab employees who revealed that the crime lab lacked standardized testing procedures as well as written documentation for some other tasks like handling evidence.
Adding to this issue is the allegation that the Dakota County Attorney’s Office had already known about the potential problems at the lab as early as March this year, but the office kept sending drug cases to the crime lab. This means that any case sent to the lab after April 1st could theoretically be in jeopardy. Despite the knowledge that the testing of evidence at the lab might be flawed, prosecutors didn’t stop sending cases to the lab for testing.
Reports say that some notes dated March 30 from the county’s assistant prosecutor outlined the deficiencies in testing drug cases at the St. Paul crime lab. An email dated April 27th shows that the second in command at the Dakota County Attorney’s Office was surprised to learn about the situation. A defense attorney commented, in an interview, that at that point in time, the County Attorney’s office should have notified the defendants with pending cases arising at the lab. The County Prosecutor’s Office could not tell the exact number of cases sent to the lab from Apr 1st to July 15th, but some reports say that 52 persons were arrested involving drugs and 15 of those cases were sent directly to St. Paul crime lab.
The most recent report is that St. Paul is now paying $149,800 to have an outside agency evaluate, re-train and revamp the labs processes and procedures.
Source: KSTP News