Dakota County’s drug cases were tested by lab under scrutiny
County officials to review other crime lab options this week
The St. Paul Crime Lab, under scrutiny for what two public defenders say are questionable testing practices, has been used almost exclusively in Dakota County drug cases for at least the past five years, said Dakota County Drug Task Force Cmdr. Dan Bianconi.
While Bianconi and Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows credit the crime lab for its efficiency and quick turn-around time, they both cited concerns about highly publicized court testimony from its employees this week indicating the lab’s practices may have compromised the reliability of the tests and results.
Both officials indicated the county will likely seek other options for its future evidence testing.
“My main concern is maintaining the integrity of our work,” Bianconi said. “That’s paramount and cannot be jeopardized. We put far too much effort and labor into these cases, and we want them prosecuted and convicted. … We want our cases to be beyond reproach.”
Bellows said he would talk with Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and police chiefs this week to determine if changes are needed regarding where the county sends case evidence.
During the three-day evidentiary hearing this week, defense attorneys Lauri Traub and Christine Funk scrutinized lab practices in the first of eight Dakota County drug cases they claim may have convicted people based on “bad science,” according to a report in the Star Tribune.
Several St. Paul Crime Lab employees testified the lab has no written procedure or formal training program and does not keep documentation of when drug evidence is accessed, according to Minnesota Public Radio and the Star Tribune reports.
Minnesota requires prosecutors to prove the scientific techniques used are generally accepted in the scientific community, and that the lab conducting tests employed proper controls.
With testimony concluding this week, the hearing will be suspended to give both sides time to review reports and documents that were recently disclosed, Backstrom said.
Backstrom said Judge Kathryn Messerich is expected to decide on the case by early fall.