Annie Dookhan, 34, was arrested on September 28, 2012, and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of falsifying her academic record during her nine-year career as a state crime lab chemist. Each obstruction charge carry up to ten years in prison while the false credentials charge carries up to a year in jail.
Among other actions, Dookhan is accused of skipping the preliminary test to screen what type of drug is being tested at the lab. This is critical to the final results because it tells the chemist how to prepare a comparison sample. Instead, Dookhan based her results on what the police believe the sample to be and its appearance. Skipping steps or entire tests is known as "dry-labbing."
In one case that led to her detection, a chemist who was checking Dookhan's work discovered that two samples she had identified as TUC, the active ingredient in hashish and marijuana, contained different
substances. When that chemist sent the samples back to Dookhan for rescreening, she resubmitted the samples to him, now contained pure THC. Apparently she had swapped samples to cover her dry-labbing. This incident, among others, was detailed in a 100-page report released by the Massachusetts State Police.
"Dry-labbing is probably the most sinful thing that a chemist can do because it is essentially cheating," according to Thomas E. Workman, who teaches courses on evidence at the University of Massachusetts Law School and practices criminal law. Workman believes that cameras should be placed in crime labs to monitor technicians with the recordings made available to prosecution and defense lawyers.
"Annie Dookhan's alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the criminal justice system," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
According to state officials, Dookhan was involved in the testing of over 60,000 suspected drug samples involving 34,000 defendants while she was a chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain. During that time, lab officials believed that she held a Master's Degree in Chemistry from the University of Massachusetts and she testified in court that she held the degree. however, university officials said that she was never awarded that degree or enrolled in any post-graduate courses there.
State police say that Dookhan admitted forging other crime lab workers' signatures, improperly removing drug evidence from storage lockers and dry-labbing for "two or three years." She also admitted to recording negative drug tests as positive "a few times" and testing only a small portion of a batch of drugs she was supposed to test.
"I messed up. I mess up bad. It's my fault," said Dookhan when she we arrested. "1 don't want the lab to get in trouble."
State officials estimate that over 1,100 prisoners are incarcerated d to cases Dookhan worked on. Governor Deval Patrick named attorney David L. Meier to investigate the impact of the scandal on the criminal justice system.
"1 think that all of those who are accountable for the impact on individual cases need to be held accountable," said Patrick.
That is only appropriate since other crime lab workers have been questioning Dookhan's performance for several years, but no action was taken until the evidence of falsified drug tests became overwhelming.
but the scandal may be much wider than the estimate. 60,000 reflects number of drug tests Dookhan personally performed. But the state police report indicates that at times she served in a quality assurance role th t included testing that scales and other machines are calibrated and running properly. if so, she may have influenced the results of the other crime lab chemists' work as well.
"Those machines could have been used by other chemists, who did not even know that the machines were not properly verified," Workman said.
Judges have already freed, reduced bail or suspended the sentences of dozens of drug defendants. One such defendant is Jeff Lucient who, after! receiving a five year sentence for dealing cocaine near a school, was released after serving three years due to the Dookhan scandal. His case is now back to its pre-conviction phase, but the prosecution's evidence is tainted and is attorney thinks it unlikely that he will receive the same sentence.
"It makes me sick that the hard work that had gone into prosecuting these individuals could be thrown out the window,' said Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Lorrissey. "There will be a larger onslaught in the coming weeks of people who have committed very serious crimes who will be let out of jail or face significantly lesser charges. It leaves me kind of speechless that one individual could cause so much damage."
"I think the recent developments confirm out worst fears and open a virtual Pandora's Box. The magnitude of this situation is almost unfathomable to me," said Chris Dearborn, a criminal defense attorney and Suffolk University law professor. "In a negative sense of the word, this is the watershed event of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts."
Sources: Boston Globe; Boston Herald, Los Angeles Times
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