Category Archives: Minnesota

Public defender crisis deserves our attention

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark case, Gideon vs. Wainwright, we are a country — and a state — in a crisis that most of us, Wahl notwithstanding, know or care little about.  We should.

“We are how we treat the folks on the edge of society,” said 64-year-old Dan O’Brien, a respected lawyer preparing to retire after 33 years in the Hennepin County public defender office.

“The reason we are different from a lynch mob is that we have a system that entitles people to a fair trial and counsel,” O’Brien said. “Society is much better off if we can commit ourselves to making sure that everyone’s dignity is defended.”

This is why, 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled the way it did. “The court recognized that we cannot have equal justice unless poor people have the same kind of lawyers that you or I would pay for,” Rapping said.

“What the Supreme Court didn’t do is clearly outline what that meant,” he continued. “States have gotten the message that they need to give poor people a lawyer, but they don’t have to invest much in those lawyers.”

Although the American Bar Association’s standard for caseloads is 150 felonies per year per lawyer, public defenders often have three or four times that number, Rapping said.

Read the entire article.

Decision on Evidence from Shoddy MN Crime Lab Expected Soon

From Minnesota Public Radio:

At a hearing Friday, Dakota County Judge Kathryn Messerich said she will issue her order “as quickly as possible.” Attorneys on both sides of the contentious case said they expect the order will be released in a few days or weeks.

Messerich will decide whether evidence stored at the St. Paul police crime lab could have been contaminated in a way that would make any retesting by another lab unreliable. Her order applies only to the three defendants in the Dakota County case, but attorneys and judges are watching it closely as they consider how to handle thousands of past convictions.

From the  Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Messerich has 90 days to issue her decision, but vowed to rule sooner.

Prosecutors from Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties took the unusual step in August of voluntarily throwing out police lab results in the contested cases because of testimony that showed criminalists didn’t follow any written standard operating procedures, weren’t properly trained to use a key testing instrument and were using a testing process that wasn’t scientifically vetted.

Testimony also showed that criminalists were undertrained, testing instruments were poorly maintained and reports were not written in accordance with scientific standards. The city later hired consultants whose audits of the lab were equally critical of its operations.