The whole saga behind disgraced lab chemist Annie Dookhan that I wrote about last year just continues to get worse and worse.
Dookhan was sentenced in 2013 to at least three years in prison, after pleading guilty in 2012 to having falsified thousands of drug tests. Among her extracurricular crime lab activities, Dookhan failed to properly test drug samples before declaring them positive, mixed up samples to create positive tests, forged signatures, and lied about her own credentials. Over her nine-year career, Dookhan tested about 60,000 samples involved in roughly 34,000 criminal cases. Three years later, the state of Massachusetts still can’t figure out how to repair the damage she wrought almost single-handedly.
Of course, there are also an awful lot of folks whose convictions were predicated on a massive fraud. Many of them don’t even know this, and most cannot afford to hire attorneys to reopen their cases. Even if they have already served their sentences, the collateral impact of having drug convictions infects every part of their lives. Who is responsible for fixing that?
In Massachusetts it doesn’t even end there. Only a few months after Dookhan’s conviction, it was discovered that another Massachusetts crime lab worker, Sonja Farak, who was addicted to drugs, not only stole her supply from the evidence room but also tampered with samples and performed tests under the influence, thus tainting as many as 10,000 or more prosecutions.
Way to go Massachusetts Crime Lab, this goes to show crime labs need independent oversight built directly into the system. Otherwise these issues can never be resolved. Here’s a thing that would appear to point to a (another) big flaw in the system; prosecutors are apparently immune from their flawed actions. They’re slow to remedy wrongful convictions in these cases this Annie Dookhan tainted, and they don’t appear to be accountable. Many of the news articles remark on the fact that the prosecutors involved refuse to do anything about the thousands sitting in jail based on these faulty tests citing they followed procedure. I can’t think of a bigger flaw in a system wherein the ones in power refuse to correct the situation. The criminal justice system in this country is in dire straits. Thanks mainly to the war on drugs.
Over the past decade, crime lab scandals have plagued at least 20 states, as well as the FBI. We know that one of the unintended consequences of the war on drugs has been a rush to prosecute and convict and that crime labs have not operated with sufficient independence from prosecutors’ offices in many instances. Their mistakes ruin lives.
This issue will continue to escalate.