‘Stunning’ Drug Lab Scandal Could Overturn 23,000 Convictions


 

(THIS CASE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 29 2017, 9:29 AM ET

Stunning’ Drug Lab Scandal Could Overturn 23,000 Convictions

In the annals of wrongful convictions, there is nothing that comes close in size to the epic drug-lab scandal that is entering its dramatic final act in Massachusetts.

About 23,000 people convicted of low-level drug crimes are expected to have their cases wiped away next month en masse, the result of a five-year court fight over the work of a rogue chemist.

“It’s absolutely stunning. I have never seen anything like it,” said Suzanne Bell, a professor at West Virginia University who serves on the National Commission of Forensic Science. “It’s unbelievable to me that it could have even happened. And then when you look at the scope of the number of cases that may be dismissed or vacated, there are no words for it.”

Annie Dookhan
Annie Dookhan was arrested outside her home in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 2012. Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP, file

The dismissals will come in the form of filings from seven district attorneys ordered by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to decide who among 24,000 people with questionable convictions they can realistically try to re-prosecute.

Their answer, due by April 18, is expected to be “in the hundreds,” a spokeswoman for Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said this week. An exact number was not available because the prosecutors are still working through the list, the spokeswoman, Meghan Kelly, said in an email.

The development was first reported by the Boston Globe.

Related: How One Texas County Drove a Record Rise in Exonerations

The prosecutors didn’t want the scandal to end like this. They fought for a way to preserve the convictions, and leave it to the defendants to challenge them.

Civil rights groups and defense lawyers argued for all the cases to be dropped, saying that was the only way to ensure justice.

The state’s high court chose its own solution, ruling in January that district attorneys should focus on a small subset of cases it wanted to retry, and drop the rest.

Court Handles Cases Tainted By Drug Lab Scandal
A special drug lab session handled motions by drug defendants whose cases were handled by chemist Annie Dookhan. Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe via Getty Images

It has taken five years to get to this point, longer than it took to discover, prosecute and punish the chemist, Annie Dookhan. She worked at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston for nearly a decade before her misconduct was exposed in 2012. She admitted to tampering with evidence, forging test results and lying about it. She served three years in prison and was released last year.

By then, most of the people Dookhan helped convict — most of whom pleaded guilty to low-level drug offenses based on her now-discredited work — had finished their sentences.

Is not entirely clear why Dookhan, a Trinidadian immigrant mother, felt compelled to change test results on such a massive scale. She was by far the lab’s most prolific analyst, a record that impressed her supervisors but also worried her co-workers — a red flag that went overlooked for years. She seemed driven to stand out, even if it mean lying, former colleagues have said. She also maintained friendly relationships with prosecutors, even though her role was to remain objective.

Related: Rogue East Cleveland Cops Framed Dozens of Drug Suspects

Many likely did commit the offenses, but many did not, defense lawyers say. All of them are now burdened with dubious convictions that have made it difficult to find jobs and housing or to obtain student loans, the lawyers say. Some defendants were convicted of more serious crimes, and the drug convictions were used to stiffen their sentences. Non-citizens have been threatened with deportation.

Civil rights advocates say the case has exposed the folly of aggressive enforcement of low-rung drug offenders, many of whom are addicts in need of treatment.

“It’s a soup-to-nuts indictment of the war on drugs,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, whose lawsuit led to the supreme court’s ruling. “These scandals happen around the country because our war on drugs is based on cutting corners.”

The William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute, which houses the Massachusetts state drug lab. Steven Senne / AP, file

The reliance on forensic science in the criminal justice system has improved policing and prosecutions, but the misuse of science has also fueled wrongful convictions, researchers say. Drug labs play a distinct role in that machinery.

Lab scandals have undermined thousands of convictions in eight states in the past decade, according to data maintained by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Critics say forensic chemists feel a duty to help prosecutors rather than remain neutral. And they point out that many labs — including Hinton when Dookhan worked there — lack professional accreditation or proper protocols to prevent and detect misconduct. Some of her superiors have lost their jobs for failing to notice or report her misdeeds.

“This drug lab scandal is another example of why the criminal justice system needs to reform its approach to forensic science,” said Dan Gelb, a Boston attorney who helped write an amicus brief on the Dookhan case for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. “Labs shouldn’t be an extension of law enforcement.”

Annie Dookhan
Former Massachusetts state chemist Annie Dookhan before entering a guilty plea in November 2013. David L. Ryan / Boston Globe via AP, file

Because of the system’s reliance on plea bargains to keep cases moving, defendants often don’t have a chance to challenge results from drug labs, Bell added.

That’s become a big point of discussion at the National Commission of Forensic Science, she said. But the commission, which was formed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013, is facing an uncertain future, with no clear message from the Trump administration if its work will continued to be funded, Bell said.

The Dookhan case awakened Massachusetts to the crisis, Bell said.

But the end of the Dookhan saga will not bring the end to Massachusetts’ problems.

That’s because it is dealing with a second scandal, at a second lab, this one the result of a chemist who admitted to doing drugs — including an array of substances submitted as evidence — while on the job.

Thousands of convictions in that case are now in doubt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow me on Twitter

Social

Follow Truth Troubles: Why people hate the truths' of the real world on WordPress.com
oldpoet56

oldpoet56

truthtroubles.wordpress.com/ Just an average man who tries to do his best at being the kind of person the Bible tells us we are all suppose to be. Not perfect, never have been, don't expect anyone else to be perfect either. Always try to be very easy going type of a person if allowed to be.

View Full Profile →

Christian Daily Verse

Daily Devotional of Earvin Kyle Tupas Amacan

Jagmal

Let The Jag be Millionaire

Anda Bertanya Ateis Menjawab

Memperkenalkan keberadaan ateis di indonesia secara bersahabat

unrecognised virtuose

Run by a naive utopianist, Theodora R. Zygarde.

Cerca Trova

Dekonstruksi dan Oposisi

Chinese Commercial Correspondence

Chinese, language, learn, speak, write, textbook, contract, beginner, advanced, intermediate, commercial, marketing, correspondence, characters, radicals, decomposition, business, numbers, numerals, contract

Me,my weird thoughts and I

A place where I can doodle my thoughts and other random stuff that interest me at the time.

The Picture Patch

photography, nature, life, people, thoughts, passions

Graffiti Lux and Murals

Luxuriating in Ephemeral Art

Toni Roberts' Photojournal of Self-Transformation

one woman's journey to wholeness...

Joy of Life

“Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.”

Ardiantoyugo

Night Riding Without Seeing

Mohamad Al Karbi

محمد القربي

Murmurs from the Earth...

Whispers from the Sky

inkyfire

ink of love in fire - design is my desire

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted

praythroughhistory

Heal the past. Free the present. Bless the future.

Así, como un 8 tumbado

Abriendo el alma

Luna de papel :: Talleres Literarios en Valencia

El blog de Aurora Luna. Talleres de escritura creativa en Valencia. Club de lectura. Cursos de novela, poesía, cuento y narrativa breve. Recursos para escritores y herramientas para aprender a escribir en el taller literario. Reflexiones sobre creatividad y literatura. Master class, profesores, clases presenciales y seminarios de creación literaria adscritos a "LIBRO, VUELA LIBRE". Comunidad de escritores y lectores en Valencia. Dinámicas en curso y ejercicios de escritura creativa. Palabras, concursos, vuelos y encuentros literarios.

How to blue

Un blog acerca mi vida personal sientete libre de juzgar.

{The Sea Calls Us Home}

Welcome. This is a gathering of thoughts. Real and honest thoughts, and I hope you enjoy them.

Damon Ashworth Psychology

Musings about psychology, therapy and research

Food Food

Food Processing, Food and health, Food Engineering, Food Chemistry, Food Facts

زرقاء اليمامة ¡

من وحي الواقع أكتب، لا خيال! فلتحفظوه باسم قلمي! بكل الحب ♥

julius22193

keep going

Cook the Beans

inspired by ingredients, smells and Travels, vegan & vegetarian

IHRA

The best in WWII aviation history

whatyouthoughtiwentaway.wordpress.com/

“I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.”~ Ronald Reagan.

iksperimentalist

a collision of science and comedy

Inspire Tips

Inspire people to unleash hidden potential and overcome life challenge.

Espirational: A 10 Minute Vacation for the Soul

Espirational: A 10 minute vacation for the soul.

sulfite-free cooking

gluten-free, dairy-free, additive-free recipes for better health

OCULI & AURIS - ©®CWG

AUGE UND OHR - RUNDHERUM UND QUER GEFLÜSTERT - SEHEN HÖREN SCHREIBEN SPRECHEN TEILEN LERNEN LEBEN -

Aphadolie

News Worldwide

historywithatwist

Celebrating unusual history

Un gato mas en la ciudad

To bit or not to bit

Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher

keris journal

A dandilion.... can either mean one hundred weeds or one hundred wishes!

Ancient Beauty

Beautiful Me

Words and Notion

my words your notion

ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

How many assholes does it take to review a movie?

SurveyStud,Inc

SurveyStud: https://appsto.re/us/Ddj18.i

Dynaries Photography

Focus on what makes you happy

UNDONE

Words, Visions, Sounds....... The Deepest of Me

%d bloggers like this: