Doing God's Work (On a Budget): Public Defender's Reveal Serious Scientific Flaws at the St. Paul Crime Laboratory

Posted On July 18, 2012 by Daniel Koewler

Minnesota has reached a crisis level of concern in an area that few members of the public ever think of - our public defender's office. Minnesota Lawyer, our state's premiere legal publication, has spent a lot of ink detailing the enormous struggle that faces our public defenders on a daily basis, which really boils down to one simple conflict: too many cases and not enough attorneys.

A good attorney won't take every case that comes in their door - quality representation is far more important than quantity representation. Our firm will refuse to accept cases whenever our workload reaches a certain level, so that we can spend as much time as is necessary zealously defending our current clients. This is a luxury that the public defender's office does not have; they are obligated to take every case assigned to them (the Supreme Court said as much back in 1993).

That makes it even more impressive when a public defender steps into the ring and immediately starts dealing heavy uppercuts to the State's supposedly "scientific| evidence. In Dakota County, the fight is being brought by Lauri Traub and Christine Funk, two quality lawyers who took the time to study the science behind the State's often-uncontested evidence.

As reported by the Pioneer Press, Funk and Traub have uncovered serious, systemic flaws in the way the St. Paul Crime Lab analyzes drug samples. Noting the lack of any documented procedures at the lab, including a failure to properly train lab technicians or even properly maintain lab equipment, one expert expressed the fear that the St. Paul Crime Lab is little more than |a bunch of cowboys out there throwing drugs at instruments and hoping for results."

All of these failures could easily lead to a situation where the lab manages to "come up with false positives like crazy,| testified Jay Siegel, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a "distinguished fellow" of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Overworked and underpaid, Traub and Funk are doing what too few private defense attorneys are willing (or able) to accomplish: using expert testimony and a solid understanding of basic scientific principles to force the government to admit that it cuts too many corners when it comes to administering justice.

By the time that Traub had gotten the head of the St. Paul Crime Lab to admit that the lab ignores 49 of the 51 standards that the scientific community considers the minimum criteria for a crime lab, one thing was crystal clear: without a tireless and zealous legal defense community, Minnesota might have no standards when it comes to scientific evidence at all.