A Massachusetts drug lab chemist may have tainted the evidence of more than 40,000 criminal cases, leading to release of hundreds of prisoners who were convicted based on that evidence and the dismissal of over 1,000 cases.
Crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan has been accused of mishandling and tampering with nine years of evidence. Though no one is sure what prompted Dookhan to do the things she stands accused of, the fallout from her actions have been enormous.
According to the Boston Globe, 40,323 people could have been affected by Dookhan’s nefarious deeds in the lab. While some of those cases involved persons accused of minor charges, other cases may be far more serious. Either way, the state has already incurred millions of dollars, and lawmakers have about $30 million ready for costs related to the scandal for this year. Government and county agencies will now need to apply to the Department of Administration and Finance for funding as the state continues to scramble to serve justice to the individual cases affected by Dookhan.
Catastrophic Failure of Justice
According to Anthony Benedetti, Chief Counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, “The whole thing is disturbing.” He went on to say that he thinks that “every one of the 40,000 cases she touched should be thrown out. Whether it was possession (of illegal drugs) or distribution, the conviction is tainted because of the conduct of Annie Dookhan.”
David Danielli is one of the first convicts released from prison because of the Dookhan scandal. He was set free after a judge found questions regarding evidence undermined his guilty plea.
According to his attorney,
“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,” NPR reports. He also believes that “[t]alented 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.”
American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts Legal Director Matthew Segal says that criminal justice system must do far more than just identify those who may have been wrongly convicted. He said, “There are 40,000 people whose convictions have been potentially tainted, and the vast majority of them haven’t had a day in court. Merely identifying them isn’t justice,” the Boston Globe reports.
Chief Legal Counsel for the bar association Martin W. Healy said that the “depth of the crisis is unfathomable and reveals what can only be described as an unconscionable level of gross negligence at the state drug lab. The crisis will continue to negatively impact the state’s budget and reverberate throughout the Commonwealth’s judicial system for years to come.”
Investigators will be reviewing how Dookhan was able to manipulate and tamper with evidence, though the state drug lab where she worked has been closed.