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Minnesota crime lab scrutinized over unreliable fingerprint examination methods


The St. Paul Police Crime Lab in Minnesota is currently subject to extreme scrutiny for not following standard operational procedures and defense attorneys advise it should be shut down until it proves its reliability.

Minnesota Public Radio last week reported that the crime lab’s drug testing operations was suspended in July after employees testified that they were not following any written procedures and that they were using equipments that might have been clogged with cocaine. These allegations gave way for concern from many in the criminal justice system which led them to question thousands of drug cases.

However, most of the lab is still operating and employees are analyzing fingerprints and other evidence from crime scenes every day.
Police Chief Thomas Smith has been appointed as the current lab director and has hired two out-of-state companies to conduct an independent review.

“I just can’t imagine that there aren’t serious, serious questions about what’s going on in the other parts of the crime laboratory,” said an alarmed assistant state public defender Pam King, to MPR News. “I don’t understand why they have that laboratory open at all.”

One attorney is already challenging the fingerprint work of the lab. And back in May, before the damaging allegations of the crime lab were exposed, a Washington County public defender Rebecca Waxse requested a judge to determine if the lab’s fingerprint examination methods were reliable enough to be used as evidence in a burglary case.

Waxse’s written request stated, ”According to the St. Paul Crime Lab, they do not have standard operating procedures or formal protocols in place to govern the process of fingerprint analysis,”.

“We need to do more investigation before we can make any true determinations about what we’re going to do next,” she said.

Do you think crime labs under scrutiny should be entirely shut down until they are proven to be reliable?

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