Mixed news from St. Paul crime lab for Dakota County

The results are in.

After months of retesting controlled substance results from the St. Paul crime lab, a statement released by the Dakota, Washington and Ramsey county attorneys indicates the lab results weren’t as inaccurate as initially feared.

According to a joint statement released recently from Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, Ramsey County Attorney John J. Choi and Washington County Attorney Peter Orput, 192 retests have occurred in the three counties since last summer. Of these retests, 189 have confirmed the existence of the controlled substance previously found by the St. Paul crime lab. Two retests actually confirmed the existence of a controlled substance when the crime lab had not identified it. The remaining retest in a Ramsey County case did not find the existence of methamphetamine when the crime lab’s testing had done so. (That case was dismissed.)

More work to be done

Retesting will continue for drug convictions made since July 2010. If the evidence has been destroyed or isn’t available, the county attorneys indicated the individual cases will be studied to determine if other evidence supports the person’s conviction. If it doesn’t, the charges will be dropped.

The statement further noted the county attorneys will work with State Public Defender John Stuart to address these individual cases, but noted  “a strong argument can be made that in most cases where the defendant has pled guilty, their acknowledgement under oath that he/she was involved in the possession or sale of an illegal controlled substance would preclude the seeking of post-conviction relief.”

Most drug prosecution cases are based on field testing or evidence found at the crime scene at the time of the suspect’s arrest. Based on those findings and test results, many offenders plead guilty under oath and are charged without crime lab involvement.

Testing troubles
The crime lab’s problems came to light in July 2012 after employees admitted during a Dakota County court hearing that the lab lacked written procedures and appropriate documentation for drug testing.

Two independent forensic laboratories have been reviewing the crime lab’s operations since last year and have found an array of problems. In their report, Integrated Forensic Laboratories detailed shoddy testing practices, including the lack of presumptive color tests and the use of Wikipedia as a source of information. In addition, the report noted over one third of fingerprints were unreadable and were destroyed. The reports were written in such illegible handwriting the report recommended the use of printing, rather than cursive writing.

In the county attorney’s joint statement, they urged the public to “Keep in mind that the deficits and problems...in the St. Paul Police Department’s crime lab have not yet been shown to have resulted in the widespread misidentification of substances believed to be illegal drugs, as has been confirmed by the retesting process to date.”

Heather Edwards can be reached at southwest@lillienews.com.

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