I’ve already filed a post in this blog about the Massachusetts drug lab scandal, and before I get to today’s news about it, here’s a brief recap.
In order to secure a conviction in most drug cases, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must first establish, through expert testimony, that the substance that the defendant was accused of possessing was indeed a controlled substance. Before I go any further, let me again point out that as a Dedham drug crimes lawyer, I believe in our Constitution that states that all people are innocent until proven guilty. However, to prove that the substance in question was indeed an illegal drug, the Commonwealth must bring in the actual chemist from the state crime lab to testify in court as to what the substance is, and how the chemist arrived at his or her conclusion. The chemist is required to testify as to what chemical tests were conducted on the substance, what machines or methodology were used in the testing process, and the extent of his or her expertise as well as education. As a result, it is easy to see that the role of the state lab chemist in these types of criminal defense cases, as well as their qualifications and integrity, is extremely important, if not vital.
Over the past month the headlines in Boston cried out about one particular chemist who was employed in just such a capacity for the state crime lab. The bad news is that this chemist may have manipulated evidence to assure that defendants on trial for drug offenses were wrongfully convicted. Ms. Annie Dookhan has been accused of allegedly mishandling and manipulating evidence and testimony in hundreds of drug cases that were prosecuted between 2003 and March of 2012, when she retired from state employment. It has also been reported that she lied about her chemistry degree on her resume. The State Public Health Commissioner, John Auerbach, has even resigned in the wake of the scandal at the state drug lab.
And here’s the kicker that The Boston Globe announced today – more than 1,100 convicts serving time may have been affected by Ms. Dookhan’s alleged activities. As it turns out, these 1,100 inmates in Massachusetts prisons and county jails were convicted on potentially tainted evidence from the state’s drug lab. It gets worse: Ms. Dookhan is believed, in her nine-year-career at the lab in Jamaica Plain, to have handled (or should I say allegedly mishandled) some 60,000 drug samples that were involved in 34,000 criminal cases. After this was uncovered state officials closed the lab, in August 2012.
Here’s what may happen next. As a result of these allegations about Ms. Dookhan, all of these convictions may ultimately be tossed out of court, depending on the results of the investigation concerning Ms. Dookhan and her alleged activities at the Jamaica Plain lab.
In just one example, some drug evidence that was analyzed by Ms. Dookhan appears to have been altered – and even increased. One defense attorney, for instance, discovered that his client was arrested with 182 grams of powder cocaine. However, after the cocaine was analyzed after the scandal involving Ms. Dookhan, the amount of the cocaine had increased in weight to be 206.25 grams. This information does not bode well for Ms. Dookhan’s case – but it just may bode very well on criminal defendants who have been incarcerated on drug possession charges.
As a Dedham-Westwood criminal defense lawyer, I can say that it is going to be very interesting to see how this scandal plays out, and how it will affect prisoners in Massachusetts. It is just shocking to see how one person allegedly wreaked havoc on the entire criminal justice system. Stay tuned.