Over 40,000 Cases Tainted By “Rogue Chemist”

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guset Blogger

dookhanAnnie Dookhan was a chemist in a Massachusetts Department of Public Health drug-testing lab located in the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain. Dookhan has been indicted on 27 charges including fabricating test results and tampering with drug evidence. Dookhan allegedly told state police that she’d test a few samples but then list them all as positive, and sometimes would take cocaine from another sample and add to a sample that tested negative so it would test positive. Authorities have since shut down the lab. Dookhan has pleaded not guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and is free on $10,000 cash bail.

The administration of Governor Deval Patrick has hired Boston defense attorney David Meier to determine the scope of the scandal. The state has agreed to pay Meier’s law firm, Todd & Weld, $12,500 a month. The state has also set aside $30 million for Dookhan-related costs. The costs of the scandal may reach $100 million.

Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association referred to the “unconscionable level of gross negligence at the state drug lab.” Everybody’s outraged, now. But back then, the police were happy, the prosecutors were happy, and the drug lab bosses were happy.

The drive to convict those who have been arrested pressures the lab technicians to produce the desired results. Prosecutors are corrupted by their ambition and passion for convictions. Woe to those who stand in their way. Dookhan “was the most productive chemist” at the lab testing up to 500 samples per month while others tested 50 to 150 samples.

E-mails between Dookhan and Norfolk Assistant ­District Attorney George ­Papachristos, showing a flirtatious relationship, have led to Papachristos’ resignation. Other e-mails show Debra Payton, a Norfolk County assistant district attorney called herself a Dookhan “hog” because she was eager to get Dookhan’s help analyzing drug samples. Allison Callahan, a Suffolk assistant district attorney, praised Dookhan’s help on a big marijuana case and suggested a celebratory meeting at an upscale bar. The chemists testing the drug samples should be assigned cases randomly.

Drug lab technicians should be frequently subjected to independent, undercover, double blind testing. There should be double blind testing of chemists in every drug lab in the United States. Where are the calls for double blind testing of chemists in all the labs in Massachusetts? Crickets.

H/T: Charles P. Pierce, David Abel, John R. Ellement and Martin Finucane, Denise Lavoie, David Abel and John R. Ellement.

54 thoughts on “Over 40,000 Cases Tainted By “Rogue Chemist””

  1. Part of the problem is the “ends” justify the “means” mentality which is the polar opposite of constitutional due process and their oath of office.

    Even otherwise good FBI agents, police, prosecutors, lab technicians, etc. can produce genuine corruption with this mentality. On a side note, the Frank Church Committee of Congress exposed this mentality in FBI agents as a problem in the 1970’s. Director Mueller continues to allow this mentality to exist at the FBI and it continues to create corrupt outcomes.

  2. What does this tell us about the mentality of government agencies in relation to the public they are paid and entrusted to
    SERVE, not to serve up on a plate for the industrial meat grinder known as the justice system?

    Another black eye in the war against the people otherwise known as the war on drugs. Ahhh, the war mentality, forever prosecuted.

  3. We had a somewhat similar scandal here involving someone at the state tox lab who falsely sworn to the accuracy of external standards of breathalyzers. An external standard is a jar containing an alcohol & water mixture that the breathalizer uses to check that it is properly calibrated during a breath test sampling. Prior to being released to the State Patrol for installation into the breathalyzers They are certified by a series of technicians who sign under penalty of perjury the standard is a certain alcohol content.

    An anonymous tip at the law led to a WSP investigation and a manager of the lab resigned after she was implicated in signing off on the results when she did not actually test the solutions.

    Practically speaking, since the external standards were tested by numerous others in the lab so it was unlikely that they were improper, and that the breathalyzers are configured to trigger a warning and stop testing if the external standard is out of range, it really became a issue as to integrity of the system and admissibility of the BAC results.

    Defense attorneys brought up valid arguments that if the head of this lab committed false swearing / perjury in the course of certification of these standards what is to say that others did not engage in the same behavior. Plus it would be in the spirit of what the exclusionary rule is in many ways works to keep those more honest in that the state would not want to lose a case due to improper evidence rules causing a suppression of the evidence.

    Here is a link to the story

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Allegations-may-cast-cloud-over-DUI-cases-1245161.php

  4. Why only 2 counts against her and does sound like others are culpable, but maybe those only civillay since it was she who did the tainting, lying etc.
    (And she may have been pressured but that that Is no excuse. she had options; refuse, resign, go to media. )

  5. The desire for convictions over shadows the entire so called war on drug…. Mespo…. Would being sentenced to a Turkish prison be enough….

  6. A very important piece David considering the nature of Jonathan Turley’s blog and the arc of his distinguished career. Situations like this taint our entire criminal justice system and belie the notion that justice is blind. The country should have been aware of this in 1998 when word of the FBI Crime Lab scandal reached the news:

    “Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, who joined the FBI in 1982 and served as a Supervisory Special Agent at the Lab from 1986 to 1998, blew the whistle on scientific misconduct at the Lab. In a subsequent investigation, it was found that evidence had been falsified, altered, or suppressed evidence, or that FBI agents had testified falsely, in as many as 10,000 cases, resulting in many false convictions. More than a decade later, cases were still being overturned because of this massive fraud.[3] As a result of Whitehurst’s whistleblowing, the FBI Lab implemented forty major reforms, including undergoing an accreditation process.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FBI_Laboratory

    As to the “major reforms implemented this problem continues as noted in this Washington Post editorial from August 2012:

    “KIRK L. ODOM was incarcerated for 20 years and Donald E. Gates for nearly 30 for crimes they did not commit. Santae A. Tribble spent 28 years behind bars, even though DNA evidence now shows he almost undoubtedly was not the culprit.

    All of the men were erroneously convicted in the District, in part, on the basis of forensic evidence analyzed by the FBI. Problems within the FBI lab, particularly with hair-sample analysis, were well known to the agency and the Justice Department; a task force spent some nine years reviewing cases after a whistle-blower revealed possible shortcomings. In a series of articles, The Post’s Spencer S. Hsu and a team of reporters documented how the Justice Department failed to notify lawyers representing prisoners whose fate hinged on the FBI analysis. Some prisoners spent years behind bars before becoming aware of the lab issues.

    The problem continues to this day. The full results of the Justice Department task force’s investigation have not been made public. Even when the task force discovered flaws in a case, the information was turned over only to prosecutors, who were then left to decide whether the results needed to be brought to the attention of defense lawyers. In addition, the task force reviewed only cases involving one FBI analyst whose work was called into question; The Post identified cases where other analysts’ work resulted in convictions of innocent defendants.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fbi-lab-failures-should-lead-to-reform/2012/04/20/gIQAe6lYWT_story.html

    I think it is reasonable to assume, given that the country’s most prestigious crime lab has problems, that Ms. Dookham’s malfeasance is not uncommon across the country. It is but one reason that the criminal justice system in this country is broken. Those who are “hardliners” on crime and campaign for office based on their “toughness” rarely support the substantial increase in funds necessary to make our criminal justice system just. There is a reason that our country has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and it isn’t because this is a lawless society. As a society we have come to venerate the “enforcers of the law”, who are battling against a “criminal element” held up as bogeymen” by vote hungry politicians. The top rated “dramas” on Network TV are crime dramas that celebrate the “science” of forensics. The actors heroically portray people dedicated to punish “evil doers”. The public is led to believe that every criminal case is investigated and prosecuted to ensure justice is done. This is not, nor has it ever been the case and for most people justice in this country is just the “luck of the draw”.

  7. Authorities have since shut down the lab.”

    From one overreaction to another … it isn’t the lab it is the people who are at fault.

  8. Although all the suggestions are good ones, I particularly like Tony’s as a means to guard against future abuses.

  9. This is not something new. It has been going on forever. I know more than I want to know about the case of Fred Zain. He was the police serologist in West Virgina, and actually threw out lab samples, just making up test results. He also lied about his credentials, but nobody ever checked on his educational claims. He was finally fired for the fraud in 1989, but guess what? He got another similar job in Texas. He did the same thing there. He got caught again, eventually, and was on trial for fraud when he died in 2002. Fred Zain’s testimony sent many defendants to prison on fabricated lab results, but he never did a day of time. I could write a lot more, but this is just a comment and not a blog story.

    You can learn more by clicking the links, or Google his name.

    http://www.cwsl.edu/content/benner/Fake%20Data%20pages%202.24.pdf

    http://www.examiner.com/article/lessons-from-the-fred-zain-case-integrity-of-forensic-science-starts-the-crime-labs

  10. In cases like this a Federal judge should step in and order the state pay for an independent lab analysis by the defense in every drug prosecution for an extended period until this problem is resolved. Of course, the taxpayers get the short end on this. But, this criminality is unacceptable.

  11. How about we legalize drug usage and stop this charade of putting people in prison?

    Disgusting, I hope MA goes bankrupt paying off everyone that was convicted of any crime where this crime lab was involved.

  12. The drive to convict those who have been arrested pressures the lab technicians to produce the desired results.
    ——————–
    This is pathetic. Especially since it is most likely a product of the current gross economic imbalance. A law firm will be paid 12, 500.00 a MONTH. The mean annual wage of a chemist in a drug testing lab is $45,730. DUH.

  13. I would suggest that this lab technician and hercomplicit prosecutor be sentanced to the combined number of years they sought to sentence each of the defendants to by their willful creation of false evidence. That would change the “convict at any cost” culture.

  14. Considering the stakes, and the now negligible cost of technology, I think every drug test should be videotaped and the entire lab videotaped constantly. There is no reason we should just trust the lab hasn’t made a mistake or been negligent in its handling of tests. There should be a much greater standard of proof, somehow, to show that no such substitutions have been made, or tampering has been done, between the time of a sample being taken and the result being shown.

    Some sociopathic lab technician should not be able to, by their sole power, condemn a person to years of prison and ruin their life out of sheer laziness.

  15. In all fairness, part of the problem is the management culture at that particular lab. I know several people who work in labs that do that kind of testing, both on the floor and in management although I’ll stipulate that the ones in management I know came from the floor and aren’t just an MBA but actual chemists themselves. Most of them take the science very seriously. They wouldn’t respond to pressure from prosecutors very well if at all if it meant compromising the science. While I agree that pressure from ambitious prosecutors could indeed be the problem, how this lab is managed needs a thorough review as well. It could truly be the result of a lone bad employee or it could be a systemic problem from the lab’s end.

  16. Note chief legal counsel for the MBA referred to the “unconscionable level of gross negligence at the state drug lab.” The drive to convict those who have been arrested pressured the lab technicians to produce the desired results. Prosecutors were corrupted by their ambition and passion for convictions. Woe to those who stand in their way.

    How many other Court Systems across the country operate in the same way?

  17. I wanna believe in karma for this little Madame Curie wannabe. Maybe a successor life as an inmate in a Turkish prison.

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