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Monica Jensen
County Attorney's Office

Court Ruling Upholds Admissibility of Retesting of Illegal Drugs
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom announced that on June 6, 2013, District Court Judge Kathryn Messerich issued an Order denying a motion to suppress evidence in three pending drug prosecutions  in which the seized drugs had been previously tested by the Saint Paul Police Department Crime Lab.  In her Order Judge Messerich determined that there is insufficient evidence of wide-spread contamination at the Saint Paul Police Department Crime Lab (Crime Lab) to warrant suppression of retests on the seized controlled substances in these cases which were done at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Forensic Laboratory (BCA Lab).  Retesting on the remaining substances in these cases by the BCA Lab confirmed the existence of the same controlled substances previously identified through chemical analysis performed at the Crime Lab.

In July of 2012 multiple defendants who had been charged with various controlled substance crimes raised evidentiary issues related to chemical testing performed by the Crime Lab.  During the course of the evidentiary hearings, it was determined that significant deficits existed in the chemical testing process performed by the Crime Lab.  Upon learning of these deficits Dakota, Ramsey and Washington County Attorneys instructed drug tasks forces in their respective jurisdictions to discontinue sending suspected controlled substances to the Crime Lab and requested that retesting of any remaining drugs in outstanding cases be performed by the BCA Lab. 

In August of 2012 the defendants challenged the results of the retesting done in some of these cases.  The defendants alleged that there existed the potential for widespread contamination in the Crime Lab at the time the remaining drugs had been in the possession of the Crime Lab and that such contamination would make any retesting by the BCA Lab unreliable.  Judge Messerich ruled that while the testimony of some witnesses during this pretrial evidentiary hearing supported the possibility of contamination, this testimony did not support the actual presence of contamination.  The court ruled that the defendants in these cases can raise this issue again as they proceed through the criminal process.  In essence, Judge Messerich ruled that these contamination arguments go to the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility.  This ruling is similar to one previously handed down in a separate case by Judge Jerome Abrams on March 14, 2013, wherein Judge Abrams found that evidence of wide-spread contamination was nothing more than a “remote or unlikely possibility”.

Backstrom commented, “We are pleased with the Judge’s decision and her determination regarding the lack of wide-spread contamination in the Saint Paul Police Department Crime Lab.  It is our intent to proceed with these and any remaining cases where the results of retesting performed by the BCA Lab have confirmed the results of previous testing performed by the Crime Lab.”

If you have further questions regarding this order, please contact James Backstrom at 651-438-4438.