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St. Paul Police Drug Testing To End At Crime Laboratory

The unit at a police crime laboratory in St. Paul, Minnesota charged with drug testing has been closed, and will not be reopened anytime soon, according to authorities. Lawyers representing criminal defendants working for the public defenders’ office challenged the accuracy of the labs tests in July of 2012, resulting in questions being raised about whether numerous drug prosecution cases were based on faulty evidence.

That led to a temporary suspension of the drug testing unit’s work at the lab, but now a more permanent moratorium on its operation has been imposed. Any needs that the local police department may have for drug tests will now be farmed out to two persons at a state crime lab, with the City of St. Paul picking up the tab. During this year, the city’s expenses for such testing are estimated to run over $1 million, with that funding already approved. Building improvements and special equipment to be utilized during the testing process may run another almost $400,000, with that funding still under consideration.

Only the city crime lab’s drug testing unit will be shuttered, with fingerprint processing and other handling of evidence to continue on unhampered. The utilization of the state crime lab for drug testing began when the city drug testing unit was first suspended and now will continue for the foreseeable future. A task force on the county level processing drug prosecutions annually initiates between 300 and 500 drug prosecutions.

Still at issue is whether drug case evidence in cases in which the city crime lab’s drug testing unit may have botched the results can be used for retesting elsewhere. Some argue that such evidence may have been stored  in a manner making such retesting inherently unreliable. A local county judge is expected to soon rule on this issue.

Prosecutors say that a judge will soon issue a ruling determining whether evidence stored at the St. Paul crime lab could have been contaminated. If so, it may be useless for any subsequent tests at another laboratory.