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St. Paul crime lab seeking accreditation after scandal

St. Paul crime lab seeking accreditation after scandal

Someone facing criminal charges in Minnesota may be convicted on any number of pieces of evidence. Forensic items are those that are collected through scientific methods and could include fingerprints, DNA and blood samples. Prosecutors often point to the infallibility of forensic evidence in order to obtain a guilty verdict. The trouble is that the evidence is not always reliable.

Contaminated evidence and inaccuracies

In 2012, a Minnesota court case in Dakota County revealed that a crime lab in St. Paul was riddled with problems. As a result of the findings, the city hired independent consultants who did a deep dive into everything, from the way technicians arrived at their conclusions to the equipment they used to do it. What they found included the following:

  • The lab used dirty equipment and lacked any clean area for activities such as DNA testing.
  • Technicians did not meet the standards of basic procedures and used faulty techniques.
  • The facility was in violation of safety and health requirements.
  • There was poor documentation of activities.
  • The staff had informal training.

As a result of the report, thousands of drug convictions came into question and the crime lab’s drug testing unit was shut down.

Notably among the consultants’ findings, one forensic company found that 40 percent of cases surrounding fingerprints involved work that was “seriously deficient.” The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also reviewed more than 100 cases processed through the St. Paul lab. In two instances, technicians at the crime lab had wrongly identified evidence. In a separate review of 73 such cases, nine were found to have had evidence that could have been potentially contaminated.

Seeking accreditation 

Recently, Minnesota enacted legislation that requires crime labs to be accredited to do work such as forensic analysis and drug testing. The facility in St. Paul is now trying to prove its merit.

The city has invested $1 million to correct the issues and hired a new lab manager. Certain activities, such as evidence processing and fingerprint analysis, have continued at the lab. The current police chief hopes that the lab will be accredited within the next two years, and a new lab manager has been hired.

The Innocence Project notes that invalidated or inaccurate forensic evidence contributes to almost half of all wrongful convictions in which DNA later exonerates the suspect. It is imperative that people facing a conviction have an attorney who can ensure that any evidence brought against them is from an accredited crime lab.

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