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New Minn. law requires crime labs to meet national standards

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Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill Friday that requires that crime labs across the state be accredited in order to test drugs or conduct other forensic analysis. 

The new law gives labs until July 2015 to begin the accreditation process. Accreditation often requires lengthy paperwork and can cost several thousand dollars.  

State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who authored the bill in the Senate, said the law is necessary to protect the integrity of evidence presented in the state's courts, as well as "to protect the interests of the accused so the evidence brought against them is reliable." 

"Any scientific experiment or process carries with it the risk of false positives and the risk of false negatives," Latz said. "Those results can be the difference with someone being charged with a felony crime that carries a 20-year sentence in prison if convicted, and not being charged with anything at all."

The accreditation of crime labs became an issue in 2012 after it was revealed that the St. Paul Police Department's crime lab had no standard procedures for testing. An independent report on the lab found sloppy or non-existent recordkeeping, dirty equipment and staff ignorance of basic scientific procedures. 

Latz introduced the bill last year but it stalled in committee. This year it passed the House 115-15 and the Senate 64-0. He said there was little pushback from smaller crime labs.

In a statement, Dayton said all crime labs should operate with highest standards of accuracy. 

"All forensic laboratories in Minnesota should be accredited," Dayton said. "Those labs process evidence that help make determinations of guilt or innocence that have enormous effects on people's lives."

Latz said somewhere between 15 and 20 crime labs operate at police departments around the state, although only four labs are currently accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.