Forensic Fraud in Massachusetts Casts Doubt on Thousands of Drug Convictions

October 11, 2012

Forensic fraud is one of the seven causes of wrongful convictions of innocent people. The others are (1) mistaken eyewitness testimony, (2) police misconduct, (3) prosecutorial misconduct, (4) ineffective assistance of counsel, (5) false confessions by innocent defendants, and (6) false testimony by jailhouse informants.

Annie Dookhan, a former analyst in a crime laboratory in Massachusetts, recently confessed to police that she had falsely reported that she had detected the presence of a controlled substance in a drug exhibit without performing the necessary test or she had tampered with a drug exhibit that had tested negative for the presence of a controlled substance by adding a known controlled substance to it before retesting the exhibit to assure that she would detect that controlled substance when she ran the test a second time.

Dookhan admitted that she committed this fraudulent misconduct in 34,000 cases involving 60,000 evidentiary exhibits.

Police also discovered that she had misrepresented her academic credentials during her employment at the crime lab by falsely claiming that she had obtained a masters degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts at Boston. She started working at the lab in 2003.

The Boston Herald recently reported,

Annie Dookhan, the former state chemist at the center of a massive lab scandal which may jeopardize thousands of drug cases, could face decades behind bars if convicted, said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Dookhan, 34, pleaded not guilty this afternoon in Boston Municipal Court to two counts of obstruction of justice and falsely pretending to hold a degree from a college or university. She posted $10,000 bail late this afternoon.

Prosecutors said today Dookhan would sprinkle cocaine on negative test results, test them again, and report the positive finding; and test a few samples out of a batch of 25 and list them all as positive.

Governor Deval Patrick closed down the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain where Dookhan was employed and he appointed former prosecutor David Meier to review all of the cases that she worked on during her employment at the lab. Meier recently said he has identified 1,140 people presently incarcerated whose cases were handled by Dookhan.

Since crime labs usually destroy controlled substances after the cases are resolved, retesting evidence that she handled may not be possible in many cases.

Dookhan’s ongoing fraud was discovered in June 2011 after supervisory personnel at the lab discovered she had altered laboratory records after the fact in an effort to show that she had logged out and returned a drug exhibit to the laboratory safe after testing it.

The Boston Herald reported,

On June 21, 2011, one day after supervisors of the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute chemist — identified by multiple criminal lawyers as Annie Dookhan — found no trace of her logging drugs in and out and of an evidence room for testing on June 14, the record-keeping “irregularities” were suddenly fixed, Linda Han, head of the Department of Public Health lab, wrote in a Feb. 21 letter this year to Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey.

“On June 21st, when the log book was re-examined, entries did appear showing a transfer of the samples from the evidence office to the chemist. It appeared that these entries were made by the chemist after June 14,” Han told the district attorney, noting the chemist was immediately stripped of her lab duties.


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