Ramsey County, Mn., law enforcement agencies will keep biological evidence from some felony cases indefinitely as a hedge against wrongful convictions, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The policy aims to prevent the destruction of evidence that might be used later if a case is on appeal, if new facts come to light about who committed the crime, or if a test is available to review the evidence. Prosecutor Susan Gaertner is making the changes after her office conducted DNA testing on 116 cases and found that evidence in at least two of them had been destroyed.
Gaertner’s office is the first in Minnesota to take such steps and comes as prosecutors nationwide have been forced to review how evidence is kept. Police will store evidence collected in homicides, sexual assaults, or other felony cases until a defendant’s sentence has concluded. If a defendant is acquitted and there are no other suspects or related court hearings, the evidence may be destroyed.
Evidence in unsolved homicides or sexual assaults where no suspect is identified will be kept permanently. St. Paul Police Chief William Finney said the move “reflects a strong determination to find the truth in every criminal case.”
Although DNA evidence has been used to exonerate numerous people wrongly convicted, Minnesota and many other states don’t regulate how biological evidence is kept for further review. A statewide proposal to regulate how evidence is kept is pending in the state legislature.