Hennepin county faces a huge case backlog

"Because DNA evidence is so powerful, it's particularly important to understand the method under which DNA results are compiled and tested,"

Professor Erlinder cautions. "If it's not possible to examine exactly how it's done and have experts reproduce that, it makes the DNA evidence worthless."

Whatever the decision--and whenever it comes--the delay that began with the Court of Appeals decision last March will undoubtedly cause further strain on a justice system that's already gearing up for budget cuts and overstretched resources. Although generally only about 15 percent of charged cases actually end up going to trial, Klobuchar anticipates that the serious nature of most of the delayed cases will probably land them before a jury.

"There will be a glut of trials for the six months following the issuance of a decision," she predicts.

"It could be a scheduling challenge," agrees Kevin Burke, Hennepin County District Court's chief judge. "There's a logistical problem. There is a finite number of public defenders, and a finite number of prosecutors trying these [cases]. They might not all be matched up appropriately."

And although these cases will remain a high priority, Burke notes that the drain on resources might cause a ripple effect on cases involving lower-level crimes. "I don't think in the end that anybody, being responsible, is going to think that murderers or defendants accused of criminal sexual conduct aren't going to have their cases tried. Victims don't have to worry," he says. "But something's going to have to give. That will probably be some of the neighborhood livability crimes."

Perhaps the biggest kicker is that the state might have avoided the delay in the first place. If it had looked far enough ahead to consider the potential challenges to its new PCR-STR test, it might have selected a different company's equipment--or held on to the old generation of tests, at least during the transition. While prosecutors argue that using the old test is a step backward, at least that test's evidence was admissible in court.

"The prosecutors could drop the charges or use another method not subject to proprietary problems," offers Erlinder. "That's their decision. They walked right into it."

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