Skip to comments.Crime Lab Scandal Rocks Massachusetts
Posted on 09/23/2012 6:17:28 PM PDT by DeaconBenjamin
Massachusetts is reeling from a massive scandal in its state crime lab. Details are still emerging about what officials call a "rogue chemist" who may have mishandled evidence in as many as 40,000 cases over 10 years.
It could mean the unraveling of countless convictions.
Even lawyers prone to hyperbole may not be overstating it when they call the scandal a catastrophic failure and unmitigated disaster.
"Any person who's been convicted of a drug crime in the last several years whose drugs were tested at the lab was very potentially a victim of a very substantial miscarriage of justice," says defense attorney John Martin.
He represents the man believed to be the first convict sprung because of the scandal. David Danielli walked out of prison Thursday after a judge agreed his guilty plea was undermined by questions about the evidence. Those same questions may also undermine efforts to retry him.
Even Martin concedes countless guilty people will probably go free.
"Talented defense attorneys will be able to strongly suggest that any results from that lab are tainted, and people who deserve to be incarcerated for a very long time are going to walk and that's the reality of it," Martin says.
Even prosecutors supported the defendant's release on Thursday, saying the Constitution demands it. And it's not the end of the fallout.
District Attorney Joe Early, head of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, says prosecutors will move on some cases even before defense attorneys ask.
"The DAs are used to putting people in jail. They're not used to letting them out because of technicalities or mistesting. In that regard, a lot of people have some tough decisions to make," Early says.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating the chemist, Annie Dookhan, who's accused of tampering with samples to make them weigh more, or even to test positive. She and three others have already lost their jobs, including Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, who says supervisors should have picked up on red flags.
Dookhan was caught a year ago after she failed to sign out evidence and signed out evidence using aliases. She was handling three times the normal caseload.
"That the actions of a single person could cause so much damage, and the possibility that justice was not served I'm furious at that," Auerbach says.
Defense attorneys like Max Stern are already buzzing about civil suits.
"There's many people who for years have not been able to get jobs, not [been] be able to get driver's licenses, not [been] able to live in particular housing," he says. "There are enormous consequences nowadays to drug convictions."
It's still unclear what the chemist's motive may have been, but if some innocent defendants were wrongly convicted, former prosecutor Wendy Murphy says people should be equally concerned about bad guys who may have gotten off.
"There is no legal remedy. Prosecutors cannot go back in front of a judge and say, 'I want this wrongfully acquitted man to be brought back up on charges,' because double jeopardy would bar that remedy, and that's a problem for the public," Murphy says.
Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge and now a Harvard law professor, agrees that the crime lab scandal could "turn the system on its head." She says courts might dismiss cases not only because of tainting, but also just to punish and deter misconduct.
"There have been times when government misconduct was so outrageous, the only response is to dismiss charges. It doesn't happen often, and it takes extreme situations, but this is a level of negligence which is really stunning," Gertner says.
The crime lab in question used to be run by the Department of Public Health but is now under the state police, as in most other states. But Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed says that can be problematic.
"There are often implicit pressures [on crime lab technicians] to help out prosecutors to testify in cases in a way that supports their perceived colleagues in law enforcement," Medwed says.
A legislative panel is looking into possible reforms. Prosecutors say the obvious answer is better oversight.
“A legislative panel is looking into possible reforms. Prosecutors say the obvious answer is better oversight.”
It is incredibly easy to "frame" somebody by doctoring a test result.
You mean no one noticed all that time.
End this stupid war on drugs now. It’s done far more harm than good. Everything Government touches outside of it’s specifically enumerated powers it f**** up. Everything.
These kinds of scandals have happened over and over. That’s why you never trust the ‘technical evidence’ over that of eyewitnesses to the alleged crime.
It is well known how important the handling of evidence is, for precisely the reason that if a person handling the evidence becomes suspect, then all evidence that person has handled becomes suspect. They had procedures, as every other city does, to ensure proper handling of evidence and test results. Yet she still was able to carry on, even after she started to raise red flags? This was a management failure.
We had the same problem in San Francisco. A lot of convicted people had their cases dropped. The lab technician in question was NOT Amish.
The media here in MA has been pumping this story. Pumping it and pumping it. Like there’s nothing else to talk about. Crime lab scandal, day after day.
When I see stuff like this, I have to ask, “What is the media’s agenda?”
I say they want drug legalization. This little scandal is just a means to that end.
In MA, I would have gotten a felony. The perp who did this needs HARD TIME BEHIND BARS.
You have the answer.
ya they going to lett all their drug dealers out a jail for free.
When I inquired, I was told that I had a controlled substance in my blood. It's a freaking beta blocker! I had showed the lab my prescription before hand.
Same lab had passed me six times before. Idiots.
Police running a crime lab on the cheap (She was handling three times the normal caseload) and most likely putting pressure on to convict (and hurry it up) . What could go wrong? CSI it ain’t.
The DA’s want convictions , they want the “right” lab result , they’re all on “the same team” ... management was involved by simply ignoring the problems ... and the overworked lab tech is low man on the totem pole ...
This is why we should have the biblical “two or three witnesses” required for a conviction.
Just a drug lab test shouldn’t cut it.
The drug test; a witness; the testimony of someone who says he boasted of being a drug dealer. That’s three witnesses in my book, and if on a jury, I’d vote to convict.
Not on just a drug test.
The problem here is not the “war on drugs.” The problem is the wrongly prosecuted war on drugs. Do it right. Two or three witnesses.
There could be several reasons why you were passed previously, including test sensitivity to the substance, or a metabolic situation in your body that produced more concentrated levels on the test that day.
My guess is that this will all boil down to hack-hiring and affirmative action hiring.
So if you weigh the same as a duck?
When will the persecutions end?
I have passed over 50 drug tests since 2001. Always on this medication. This was not a metabolic reaction. this was a screw up by a lab tech who didn't know the difference between a beta blocker and a narcotic.
I had to fight it and get another independent lab to refute the results. That was six months out of my life.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.