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No C.S.I., St. Paul Crime Lab Drug Testing "Unscientific"

The majority of what many people know about forensic science and the analysis of evidence can be attributed to the television show, C.S.I. The popularity of the crime tv show has caused many prospective jurors to look unflinchingly at the work of a crime lab. Unfortunately, the reality of St. Paul's crime lab operation appears to be vastly different from the precision and accuracy of the C.S.I. lab on tv.

The St. Paul police crime laboratory is under fire for their handling of evidence in a series of drug crime cases. The lab's practices and procedures are being challenged in eight cases in Dakota County. In testimony yesterday, the head of the crime lab, Sgt. Shay Shackle, admitted that his lab is coming up short.

Among the most glaring failures, the unaccredited crime lab meets only two of the 51 minimum professional standards established by the international body of forensic scientists.

Insufficient training coupled with a complete failure to establish a standardized procedure for testing evidence samples and maintain equipment has left many speculating about the reliability of the lab's results. The lab's failure to document their testing and maintenance practices have further eroded their credibility.

The deficiencies in the lab's practices were highlighted by expert witness, Dr. Jay Seigel, who directs the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Programs at Indiana and Purdue Universities. Seigel testified that the lab's lack of proficiency testing was "outside the maintstream practice." He was further dismayed that staff at the lab did not bother to run a solvent through testing equipment between tests to avoid the problem of cross-contamination.

Internal monitoring is also a problem. Currently the lab does not have any system of peer review in effect to ensure the reliability of results.

A Dakota County district court judge is expected to rule on the admissibility of this evidence later this year. Her decision could have serious implications not only for people with pending drug charges, but also for those that have already been convicted based on evidence analyzed at the St. Paul police crime lab.

Source: www.startribune.com, "Director concedes record of shortfalls at St. Paul crime lab," Chao Xiong, 17 July 2012

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