Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Mass. Legal System In Turmoil

Annie Dhookan (right), a former Massachusetts crime lab chemist, is accused of falsifying evidence in more than 30,000 cases. The state's criminal justice system is now reeling as former defendants are challenging their convictions and hundreds have already been released.NPR – by Tovia Smith

A scandal in a Massachusetts crime lab continues to reverberate throughout the state’s legal system. Several months ago, Annie Dookhan, a former chemist in a state crime lab, told police that she messed up big time. Dookhan now stands accused of falsifying test results in as many as 34,000 cases.

As a result, lawyers, prosecutors and judges used to operating in a world of “beyond a reasonable doubt” now have nothing but doubt.  

Already, hundreds of convicts and defendants have been released because of the scandal. Now, the state’s highest court may weigh in on how these cases should be handled.

“I don’t think anyone ever perceived that one person was capable of causing this much chaos,” says Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrisey, one of many DAs now digging through old drug cases, trying to sort out how many should now be considered tainted.

“You can see the entire walls full of boxes,” Morrissey says, gesturing at dusty files piled six feet high in a conference room near his office. “In one of these cardboard boxes, there could be hundreds of cases … in each box.”

The cases represent nearly a decade’s worth of work that could take years and tens of millions of dollars to review.

For Prosecutors, ‘Unsettling And Maddening’

In Massachusetts, special courts have already heard hundreds of cases of convicts and defendants arguing they were denied due process. Their evidence, they argue, was handled — or mishandled — by Annie Dookhan.

In a recent hearing, public defender Julieann Hernon is arguing for release of a man charged with selling cocaine and heroin in a school-zone to an undercover officer. Hernon recites a list of alleged misconduct by Dookhan.

“It was, we now know, mistesting evidence, drylabbing evidence, saying she had conducted tests when she had not, deliberately tainting drugs,” she says.

Hernon’s client had pleaded guilty, but now, Hernon says, he should be allowed to take it back.

“Certainly, I think, we have to presume a taint here when Annie Dookhan was the chemist in the case,” Hernon tells the judge.

The whole dynamic in court has now flipped in Massachusetts. Defendants tend to smile while prosecutors watch their cases crumble. Today, Norfolk County Assistant District Attorney Tom Finigan tells the court that the Commonwealth will not oppose Hernon’s motion.

“It’s unsettling and maddening, because you’re now going to have a lot of people get released to the street prematurely,” says Middlesex County District attorney Gerry Leone, one of many hoping the state supreme court will curb the releases.

While some defendants could still be on the hook for gun or assault charges, for example, he says most drug cases where Dookhan was the primary chemist will be impossible to re-prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

But Leone says it’s unclear where to draw the line. Some offenders, he says, are just trying to jump on the bandwagon, arguing that every test from that lab should be considered tainted.

“If someone’s in jail, they’re doing downtime,” Leone says. “So there’s no reason to try to file something that gets you back before the court.”

In another recent case, defense attorney William Sullivan successfully argued to withdraw a client’s guilty plea in a case where Dookhan was a secondary chemist.

“This is a lab that was pretty much wholly and fully contaminated by Ms. Annie Dookhan,” Sullivan told the judge. “She had full access to everyone’s drugs.”

While the judge decided in his client’s favor, Sullivan is quick to add that clients like his also have plenty of reason to be bitter.

“The tragedy is that he’s already did four years on this,” Sullivan says. “I mean, that is disturbing in itself.”

Other defendants have lost jobs, driver’s licenses, kids and marriages, and many have been deported. And in federal court, many defendants received stiffer sentences, because of prior state convictions based on evidence from Annie Dookhan.

With Hundreds Now Free, Police On High Alert

Defense attorneys say it’s taking too long to handle these cases individually. They want the state’s highest court to order that Dookhan cases should be presumed to be tainted and automatically put on hold.

It may look like defendants are getting a “get out of jail free” card, Sullivan says, but the focus must be on whether they got a fair trial.

“I think we put on blinders when we’re doing these cases,” Sullivan says. “You try to do the right thing for your client to make sure that they get proper representation. And if that means it gets them off, it gets them off.”

With hundreds of former defendants already off and out on city streets, police remain on high alert.

“These people are not first time offenders or small time drug dealers,” says Boston police sergeant James Machado. “I know there will be consequence[s] of this. And unfortunately, innocent people will be killed.”

Already, about 20 of those released have been re-arrested for new crimes. Boston police commissioner Edward Davis says Boston hasn’t seen the surge in violence that some feared, but he — and his officers — worry it’s yet to come.

“They shake their heads. You know, they’re disgusted by what’s happened,” Davis says. “We have to start from zero again.”

Davis says he’s been sending an officer to meet with each defendant or convict just before release to offer services like job training — and to issue a warning.

“We tell them, ‘Listen, we know what you were doing before and we’re watching you. And if you go back into the life, that Dookhan’s not there anymore. So when you go [back] in on this charge, it’s gonna stick,'” Davis says.

Annie Dookhan is currently facing charges of her own: 27 counts of perjury, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice.

At the same time, civil suits are also starting to pile up, as those accused of crimes based on Dookhan’s evidence now accuse Dookhan of violating their right to a fair trial.

9 thoughts on “Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Mass. Legal System In Turmoil

  1. How much damage did this little bitch do in her zeal to further her own career?
    The families, careers, and lives of thousands were all destroyed because little Miss CSI wanted to get her nose a little further up her boss’s vent hole.

    She should be tied to a stake to be eaten alive by army ants, and after her skin is consumed, doused with gasoline and roasted until dead.

    1. Yes Jolly Roger. Don`t forget about all of the torture that goes on in american jails and prisons. Anything less than some good torture for her is unaceptable. I say don`t kill her, use her to torture when we have a bad pissed off day and keep her alive as long as possible on a bread and water diet. You`ve got a good plan though too, I would just like to see her suffer for at least a month or two.

  2. arrest the heads of this lab and through them in jail for the rest of thier lives as they knew all about this.she was doing the work of 6 people.

  3. In a perfect world she should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Even putting one innocent man behind bars is one too many.

  4. Give her 20 years of prison time. If she was overloaded she should have quit her job. That simple people. No more Mary Poppins type sentences. You screw up, you screw the pooch.

  5. You guys ever take a moment and read your own thoughts before you publish them?…..take a moment and put the elitest ptb scumbags where you are- they judge and convict all of us thru their unlawful tyrannical rulings and legislations- never giving us a fair day in court. they grumble under their breathe of their hatred for free men and women and of the lascivious disregard for the bill of rights/constitution.

    The subject of their disdain is YOU/same way you vindictively speak of this lady. where is justice in that?
    the subject of them writing about is YOU. this is exactly how they speak of and insult the patriots and constitutionalists when referring to the people of this country.

    There is a saying: from an abundance of the heart, doth the mouth speak. she may have done wrong here, she deserves a fair trial just like everyone else does/did. to demand anything less puts you in the same despicable category as the tyrants we have before us. consider that maybe she had a family member wronged by the justice system and this perhaps was a way for her to “balance the scales”.

    I suggest you all re-check yourselves lest you let your hatred turn you into the spitting image of your enemy before you.

    1. Yep millidude, I am pretty sure us guys here do think about what we say – how about you. You are kind of preachin` to the choir saying that. Listen to what you are saying. There may very well have been those that been ” wronged ” as you say it but look at what most of them were brought up to believe in. If what you say is realy worth while then maybe those kids like you mention would have stood up and ratted out those like this bitch or dirty cops and politicions.You cannot even count how many lives that those types have ruined. The elitist and tptb are the scum of the earth and we all have had enough of their kind of crap that they have been spreading for so many years. We have had it with them. The elitist and the ptb have made it more than clear as to their motives. we all have been more than patient with them pos.

  6. Were these blood-drug tests, blood-DNA tests, or both? What was Dookhan’s motive: was she told to taint these lab tests, or was she paid under the table to deliberately alter the results?

    The people whom may have been falsely incarcerated have reason to be royally pissed-off. But how is this lab incident any different than the way law enforcement sometimes works to get a conviction? There are countless cases of police planting evidence or, tainting evidence BEFORE it goes to the crime lab.

    DNA Tests will be admissible in a Court of Law when they are performed by a certified crime lab. You may have the option of requesting another DNA test if you can show that improper testing procedures were done by the crime lab (see OJ Simpson vs. State of California).

    A second DNA test can only be performed by an accredited AABB (American Association of Blood Banks) lab. There are only 35 of these labs to choose from, and one of them must be used if you wish to submit DNA test results as legal evidence. This means that if you are “falsely” convicted of a crime through DNA evidence, then your only recourse is to submit the DNA evidence to one of these 35 labs for testing. All of these accredited DNA testing labs are regulated by the AABB, and the AABB is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). And we already know the infamous track record of the FDA and DHHS.

    DNA can be used to prove a crime, or can be submitted by an individual to prove his/her right to inheritance from a family Estate. However, nowadays justice is served to the highest bidder. The Fed or State can get a conviction through DNA evidence, and wealthy family members can use DNA evidence to deny the legitimacy of a bastard beneficiary. They don’t even have to taint the DNA evidence; they only have to pay the Lab to alter the DNA test results. Furthermore, any secondary legal DNA testing would need to be done by another accredited AABB test lab, which means that the results will always be the same (on paper).

    I believe that the Massachusetts police will be keeping an eye on all the people released from incarceration, and law enforcement will either find or create the means to arrest these people again. Guilty or not, justice or injustice will be served in Massachusetts!

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