In my previous post on this topic, I wrote about how prosecutors in Massachusetts must prove that any allegedly illegal substances that the Commonwealth accuses a defendant of possessing, using, or distributing, have actually been tested by a qualified chemist in the state drug lab, and that the substance is indeed either a controlled substance or an illegal drug. That’s the first, threshold legal issue in any Massachusetts drug offenses prosecution.
In that previous post, I outlined the required police process of inventorying and safeguarding any suspected controlled substances, to make sure that the chain of custody of the alleged illegal drug(s), from the arrest scene to the police station, to the state drug testing lab (formally called the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory,) to the particular District Attorney’s office that is prosecuting the case, to the courtroom where the case is tried, remains untainted in any way. Because if that safeguarding process is in any way deviated from, it can potentially result in an otherwise innocent defendant, being convicted of a Massachusetts drug crime. I can assure you, as a Massachusetts drug offense lawyer, that drug inventorying and testing protocols are critically important in these cases. Prior to a few years ago, the process of appropriate inventorying and appropriate testing of alleged illegal drugs in drug crimes cases was thought to be fairly reliable. Then along came a woman named Annie Dookhan. She was a chemist employed by the Massachusetts state drug lab. It was her job to test substances that police and prosecutors believed were illegal drugs.
To make a very long story short, it was discovered that Ms. Dookhan had been routinely falsifying that a variety of substances were illegal drugs or controlled substances, when in many cases, they were not. Why she did this, remains uncertain, but she was prosecuted and sentenced to jail for her actions. Fast forward to the present, and a similar scenario continues to unfold in the Braintree Massachusetts Police Department. Last spring (2016,) it was discovered that large amounts of drugs and weapons that had been stored in the Evidence Room at the Braintree Police Department, had gone missing. (The Evidence Room of a Police Department is where alleged contraband is held until it is transported to prosecutors.) At least two missing guns were found in the home of the Braintree police officer in charge of the Evidence Room, Susan Zopatti. Officer Zopatti committed suicide in May.
An internal investigation was launched, which revealed that in excess of $400,000 in cash, approximately 60 to 70 guns, and thousands of drug samples had disappeared from the evidence room. Earlier this month, the Braintree Police Chief, Russell Jenkins, resigned from the Department. Chief Jenkins had been at the Braintree Police Department 33 years, the last four as its chief. This breach in protocol has tainted potentially putting hundreds of criminal prosecutions, and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office has already dismissed several drug cases.
All of this illustrates more powerfully yet once again: Just because a person is accused of committing a crime, doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is legally guilty. If you or someone you care about has been arrested or accused of a Massachusetts drug offense, make sure that the law firm and attorney you hire has two provable things: 1) Many years of experience defending Massachusetts drug cases, and 2) A proven track record of success with those cases. Don’t leave a case like this to a general practice attorney: The stakes are too high.