What is the role of pathologists in law and order?

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2009 - 11:14 PM

In Dakota County, an intriguing argument is raised over whether medical examiners should be allowed to testify as defense experts.

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horsehockeyMar. 8, 09 7:36 PM

Medical Examiners are as conflicted as any other "expert". The question must always be asked: Who is paying your fee? Unless and until the source of the money is disconnected from either party to a trial, the witness is conflicted. I applaud the examiner in question for elevating, or at least trying to elevate, the truth over the source of his income...but we should never assume that all examiners will have that integrity.

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meandmyMar. 8, 09 8:15 PM

All parties of the criminal justice system are supposed to be separate, prosecution, law enforcement, defense attorneys, etc. Medial examiners should not be about siding with prosecution. This thought goes against the fabric of our legal system. PS Having worked with Plunkett, I hold a very high regard for him as an expert.

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ranger__101Mar. 9, 09 1:38 AM

Their entire job is to find the cause of death. They do not work in a prosecution or defense roll specfifically and should be allowed to testify as to what they found out, how they found out, and what they know. The idea that they have to play on oen side of the fence is a fallacy and just because most of the time they testify on behalf of the prosecution doesn't mean they alwasy have to.

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mfp333Mar. 9, 09 5:35 AM

When this prosecutor seeks to deprive the defense of experts, it is clear that his goal is to win cases, not to seek justice. This is not ethical.

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melvinMar. 9, 09 5:36 AM

work for us, the people. Not county politicans, police or lawyers. It is about time we, the public speak out on this 'notch' on the gunbelt of winning cases. It should be about the truth wherever that leads. That can be on either side. Why should the prosecution only have these [20] experts for themselves? The defendent has every right to exercise their privlege of having their expertise also. Should we not be ashamed of some DA's using this 'warbelt' as a political stepping stone? You know that it happens.

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plunkettMar. 9, 09 7:51 AM

Backstrom et al, including the MN Lawyers Board of Professional Responsibility, should read and understand the Goudge Commission Report (www.goudgeinquiry.ca) concerning the practice of forensic pathology in Ontario, and the recent National Academy of Sciences report concerning the role of the forensic expert in the courtroom.

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east314Mar. 9, 09 8:00 AM

Mr. Backstrom is wrong. He should be disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court and removed from his position as Dakota County Attorney. In my opinion, he committed a felony: he obstructed justice by tampering with a witness in a criminal trial through the threat of loss of income to the witness's employer. If anyone else did that, he or she would be in jail and facing prosecution. Remember, this was not a Dakota County case in which the expert was to testify so there was no conflict of interest. If Dakota County (or Mr. Backstrom) wants exclusive law enforcement control of its medical examiners, it needs to hire full-time staff (with all the attendant expense) to work as Dakota County employees. Otherwise, these doctors must be allowed to testify for whomever in cases not involving their contract counties. This is a serious threat to the fairness of our criminal justice system and must be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

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chris5144Mar. 9, 09 8:15 AM

Backstrom's an idiot obviously, and should quit his day job to pursue his Elvis impersonations. The notion that these public employees work for the state gov't is ludicrous. They work for Minnesotans, the people, and it is never in the best interest of the people to withhold the truth. By Backstrom's measure, all public defenders should be prohibited from defending Minnesotans- they work for the gov't, after all.

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sharkysharkMar. 9, 09 8:21 AM

Backstrom's statement speaks directly to a central problem in law enforcement today, that the prosecution should have exclusive control of the "facts" in every case. Winning a conviction is everything, convicting the right person less so. Medical Examiners are fact witnesses and their testimony should only be concerned with a truthful resolution of the case.

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tkladarMar. 9, 09 8:41 AM

I think the bottom line here is that Backstrom has no legal basis for restricting what the Dakota County Medical Examiner can do on their spare time. Clearly in this case there was no conflict with Dakota County. Not allowing the medical examiner to testify as an expert for another party limits what the defense has available to them to prove their case. Clearly some county attorneys have addressed this at contract time when they hire a medical examiner and Backstrom failed to address this at contract time with Regina. Therefore, if the contract is mute and there is no state or federal law, then Backstrom very well may have tampered with the witness. I think the key issue is what were his motives. If it was not to compromise Dakota County cases in the future, then as a Dakota County resident I am ok with that. If it was to help Washington County secure a conviction, then that is wrong and he should be punished. We have to see all the evidence before coming to that conclusion.

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