The problem with suspense filesby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension maintains criminal history files. When information from the court system can't be matched to a criminal history record, the file goes into "suspense." That can have consequences when it comes to handling a suspect's case in court.
There are a variety of reasons cases go into suspense.
Fingerprints may be missing or not match. The file may not be complete, or there may be clerical errors in the name, date of birth or other information.
In 2001, Minnesota had 450,000 records in suspense. In response to a legislative mandate, the BCA worked to clear up the mistakes and reduced the backlog to about 75,000 cases.
However, 15 percent of new cases, or about 2,000 files, continue to go into suspense each month. They're what officials call high priority suspense files.
State officials say there are a number of significant consequences when files go into suspense.
- Individuals with multiple convictions may appear as first-time offenders.
- Weapons may be sold to people convicted of domestic assault.
- Handguns may be sold to people not eligible to purchase them. - Applicants may erroneously be allowed or denied employment or housing.
- People subject to predatory offender registration may avoid monitoring.
- Charging, plea agreement, sentencing, placement, and treatment decisions are made based on incomplete information.
CriMNet officials say those suspense files are now searchable so they can be used for background checks, and local prosecutors and courts are notified when a file from their office goes into suspense.
Crimnet Executive Director Dale Good says better standards and training for collecting criminal justice data are needed to reduce errors and increase the accuracy of information.