Prosecutor offers plea deals due to crime lab questions

St. Paul Police Department
The St. Paul crime lab is housed at the St. Paul Police Department in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, July 25, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Washington County authorities will offer defendants deals that include less jail time and more emphasis on drug treatment in just under 100 cases affected by the closing of the St. Paul Police Department crime lab.

The problems at the crime lab, acknowledged by lab employees in court testimony earlier this month have thrown thousands of past and pending cases into question. The St. Paul Police Department crime lab provided drug testing for the Minnesota State Patrol and law enforcement in Dakota, Washington and Ramsey Counties.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said about 10 defendants in his county have already accepted plea offers.

"We're emphasizing more the chemical dependency aspect, asking people to get a chemical dependency evaluation, follow the recommendations," Orput said. "We're willing to negotiate any jail down significantly less than we had been previous to this incident."

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Orput said his office is offering favorable pleas to low-level drug offenders in pending cases, but will still focus on the full prosecution of drug dealers.

"We don't want to let them not be held to account for what they're doing because we understand how pernicious drugs are in the community," Orput said. "We will go to the extraordinary steps we need to do to get the evidence in those cases analyzed."

Orput said his office is still deciding whether to send evidence in pending cases to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab.

"I don't want to deluge that state crime lab unless I need to," Orput said. "That's why I'm trying to resolve a good deal of these cases, so we don't backlog the whole system."

Washington County hasn't yet received any motions from the defense to reopen past cases that were tested at the St. Paul police crime lab.

County attorneys from Washington, Dakota and Ramsey counties plan to meet Wednesday morning plan their approach to pending and past cases. County attorneys in Dakota and Ramsey counties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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