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.
Where would hundreds of small towns get the money for all the latest war toys if they couldn't steal all the possessions from 'druggies' and peddle them on the net?
Thanks to the RICO laws, passed to control drug smugglers, cops can rob passing RVer's and steal any cash, sell off the coaches, and justify a bottle of pain killers as a major drug bust.
To control drugs, the government keeps street prices artificially high so federal agents can steal more money, smugglers can afford higher bribes, congressmen, governors and senators can afford campaigns for president.
Eyewitness testimony is itself horrifically unreliable.
Most of the time your "witnesses" will be people doing so to cop a plea and stay out of jail themselves.
That isn’t how the tests are performed. Periodically a test will generate a positive where it hasn’t in the past for a lot of different reasons. False positives are inherent to the system, just as false negatives are.
There should probably be a better system to dispute positive samples. I can see how that would make you bitter at the process.
“Do it right. Two or three witnesses.
Most of the time your “witnesses” will be people doing so to cop a plea and stay out of jail themselves.”
Well, in that case what do you want? Ten? Twenty?
The Biblical standard is two-three. I can go with that.
I tested positive for a controlled narcotic. I take a beta blocker. How could you get a false positive from that?
I’m sure Martha Coakley will be only interested in real justice, just like in the Amirault cases.
The test procedures malfunction from time to time. I just had some data I generated a couple of years ago questioned. The submitter resubmitted material pulled at the same time and stored since then. One result was confirmed, another was not confirmed. So, when I tested two years ago, I showed twice that the results were the same, but now it doesn’t show up. Why? The vial the sample was stored in was contaminated? I don’t know. It happens.
You have the public choice economics reason why the answer will never be accepted.
“a “rogue chemist” who may have mishandled evidence in as many as 40,000 cases over 10 years.”
She had to be the hardest working government employee in America.
Better that 10 guilty go free than one innocent be convicted. -- Abe Lincoln(R, IL)
35 yr. old Annie Dookhan! frnaklin, MA
I wonder if she ran any of Lance Armstrong’s samples?
Mass State Police close State Drug Lab after finding State Chemist really screwed up drug evidence.
up to 50,000 cases.
Drug dealers may be set free state may have to compensate them.
Martha Coakley on the warpath looking for easy scalps!
How come it took over a year?
In May 2008: Governor Deval Patrick renamed the state medical lab for one of Americas first Black doctors Dr. William A. Hinton son of a slave and later researcher and teacher at the Harvard Medical School. He invented a quick and inexpensive test for syphilis.
The lab was then a division of the State Public Health Department - Doctor JudyAnn Bigby and Commissioner John Auerbach.
By June 2011 just three years later according to published reports the sloppy work and corner cutting of state chemist Annie Dookhan came under suspicion. She resigned.
You never heard a peep about it!
Did it really take over a year for auditors to figure out how widespread and damaging her actions were?
Then the lab was transferred to Public Safety MaryBeth Heffernan and Curtis M. Wood, and the State Police. Curtis isnt talking; case under investigation cant comment .
Bend over Taxpayers!
Youre about to pay for more Public Defenders to represent jailed drug dealers first to spring them, then to file lawsuits [maybe a BIG CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT] to compensate them for FALSE IMPRISONMENT. Drug convictions will have to be wiped clean off databases.
And here comes Martha Coakley looking for some easy conviction scalps to hang on her belt before her run for Senator [or Governor] in 2014. Damn, shes gonna be a busy girl!
What exactly did Chemist Dookhan do wrong? It may have been mere career ambition wanting to look like the best in the lab which made her cut corners, breeze past record-keeping and paperwork, and worst of all possibly testify untruthfully under oath in criminal cases. That last part may cost her time in jail herself.
The FIRST and OVERRIDING DUTY of any government is to protect the People from foreign and domestic enemies. Criminals are domestic enemies. Patricks AA/EEO appointees have FAILED in their primary duty.
Deval Patrick has some serious housecleaning to do. I doubt he has the political courage to do it.
His Departments of Public Safety [Heffernan & company] and his Public Health Departments [Bigby, Monahan, Auerbach, et al, et aux] are a sad combination of AA/EEO hires and democratic political hacks.
Duh-val do you have the balls to clean house?
What about State Police Colonel McGovern who JUST retired then filed for disability?
How long did SHE cover up this boondoggle? If people were convicted and imprisoned on sloppy evidence and perjured testimony why was she silent so long? Whos asses was she covering?
Is this why shes going to get a $13+K/month tax-free disability retirement?
And YOU Governor what did YOU know, and WHEN did you learn about it? Funny how sh*t left in the dark becomes something you later step in, isnt it?
/s/ Iron Mike
Old Soldier, Still Good for Parts!
UPDATE: Wed 5 Sept 2012 with Duh-val making speeches at the DNC in Charlotte, the Herald reports Dookhan man have handled up to 50,000 cases Ya think the crime lab was understaffed?
UPDATE: Mon 10 Sept 2012 (AP) Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday there would be criminal and civil consequences for what he called an apparent breakdown in oversight at a now-closed state police crime lab. OK Duh-val show us how tough you are .
UPDATE: Mon 17 Sept 2012 Public Health Commishioner John Auerbach resigns over the drug-lab scandal. Hey Deval, we want Heffernan and Bigby too!
Recovered, and deep in the 12 step fellowship, but I will always be an addict.
Another consequence of the failed War on Drugs.
Still would like to add: Gingers have no souls.
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