Crime lab accreditation bill appears dead for this legislative session

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. Drug testing was suspended at the lab last year after defense attorneys challenged the lab's work in several Dakota County drug cases.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A conference committee at the state Legislature rejected a bill this week that would require accreditation for crime labs.

The bill was prompted by concerns about shoddy science at the unaccredited St. Paul police crime lab, which suspended drug testing last year after defense attorneys challenged the lab's work in several Dakota County drug cases.

Bill author, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said mandatory accreditation would prevent wrongful convictions and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Minnesota Senate passed the measure in April as part of a larger data practices bill, but it was not included in the House version. A conference committee that met this week to work out differences between the two bills did not include mandatory crime lab accreditation.

Latz said he plans to introduce the bill again in the next legislative session.

Accredited labs are required to follow standard operating procedures and adhere to basic scientific guidelines. Minnesota has four publicly-funded accredited crime labs: the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension labs in St. Paul and Bemidji, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office crime lab and the Minneapolis Police Department crime lab.

Accreditation often requires lengthy paperwork and site visits. Labs pay application fees that range from $500 to $2,500 and site visit fees of several thousand dollars.

Crime lab
Rosanna Caswell, the St. Paul Police Department's new forensic lab manager, photographed during an interview Thursday, May 2, 2013. Caswell wants the St. Paul lab to apply for accreditation for its fingerprint analysis division by the end of the year.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The Tri-County Regional Forensic Laboratory, which serves Anoka, Wright and Sherburne counties, began the accreditation process more than a year ago. It expects to be accredited by late 2013 or early 2014.

There is no official list of crime labs in Minnesota. The state Forensic Laboratory Advisory Board, which was created to oversee crime labs but has no funding or authority, estimates there are a handful of unaccredited crime labs that perform fingerprint testing and other less complicated tests.

Rosanna Caswell, the new manager of the St. Paul police crime lab, said she wants the St. Paul lab to apply for accreditation for its fingerprint analysis division by the end of the year.

The St. Paul police lab will not resume drug testing. Instead, police are funding two positions at the accredited Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab in St. Paul to test suspected drug evidence on the police department's behalf.

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