St. Paul Crime Laboratory
In this unique case, two Minnesota public defenders exposed flaws at the crime laboratory. Christine Funk, one of the public defenders, sought training and education on DNA based on a personal interest as a result of past cases. DNA is a relevant topic in forensic science and the judicial system, so Funk went on to teach DNA courses for lawyers on the interpretation and use of DNA evidence and proper questioning of scientists. Lauri Traub, another public defender, attended one of Funk’s classes and took an interest in the subject. It was because of this knowledge that they were able to identify issues at the crime laboratory during a routine meeting to better understand case details. It became clear that in the laboratory, training on drug testing was lacking, there were no written procedures, testing instruments were not properly maintained, and basic scientific guidelines were not being followed (Mohr, 2012).
The city of St. Paul hired private consulting firms to review the practices in the laboratory. Major flaws were found that did not stop at drug evidence, but included fingerprints and crime scene processing. Issues included problems with documentation, contamination of instruments and work surfaces, faulty techniques, unsecured data, unfamiliarity with basic scientific principles, and inadequate methodology. It was recommended that the laboratory cease work, though none of the issues were deemed intentional by the reviewers.
The knowledge possessed by the public defenders in this case led to the exposure of many issues in the St. Paul Crime Laboratory in 2012. This case shows the need for training and continuing education of scientists and lawyers, as well as the value of laboratory accreditation to establish standards and guidelines. Steps to maintain credibility will advance the laboratories and the forensic science field.