Prosecutors to retest evidence in 350 cases

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

Authorities in three metro area counties announced Wednesday that they will re-test evidence in about 350 pending drug cases that were previously tested at the St. Paul Police Department crime lab.

St. Paul police closed the St. Paul police crime lab in July after lab employees testified in a Dakota County court case that the lab had no written procedures for drug testing and kept little documentation of the testing process.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom released a joint statement on Wednesday afternoon. The statement said cases from all three counties that were previously tested by the St. Paul Police Department crime lab would be re-tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension [BCA].

"Continuances will be sought in all pending drug cases to allow this retesting to occur. The St. Paul Police Department has agreed to pay any overtime costs associated with the retesting process by the BCA," according to the statement.

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St. Paul police said they don't know at this point how much the testing will cost.

Choi told MPR News that cases where defendants are being held in jail will be given priority for retesting.

The county attorneys said defendants in pending cases where evidence has been destroyed or is insufficient for retesting could be charged with lesser offenses or have cases dismissed.

The fate of thousands of past cases that were tested at the St. Paul Police Department crime lab will partly depend on the results of the re-testing of pending cases, Choi said.

"We want to know what the results are," Choi said. "We believe and hope that the tests will show that they were accurate to begin with."

St. Paul police are also conducting a review of crime lab procedures.

Choi said the three counties will continue to collaborate as they deal with issues arising from the closing of the crime lab.

"As difficult as this is for all of us to deal with these challenges, we always keep in mind that we're ministers of justice, so it's our role to do whatever we can to ensure there's public confidence in the criminal justice system," Choi said.

Any motions from defense lawyers to reopen court cases will be reviewed on a "case-by-case" basis. Choi said he wasn't aware of any defense motions regarding past cases.