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November 23, 2013

Corrupt Massachusetts lab analyst gets (significant? inadequate?) state prison term for misdeeds

As reported in this Boston Globe article, "Annie Dookhan, the drug analyst who tampered with evidence and jeopardized tens of thousands of criminal convictions, was sentenced Friday to three to five years in state prison, closing a sorrowful chapter for the woman at the center of a scandal that continues to plague the state’s criminal justice system." Here is more:

The 36-year-old mother of a disabled child, whose marriage fell apart in the months after the scandal, softly pleaded guilty to 27 counts of misleading investigators, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence. She must also serve two years of probation and undergo mental health counseling, if needed....

Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office prosecuted the case, said in an interview later that the conviction of Dookhan was only one part of an ongoing investigation into the quality of drug testing at the Hinton drug lab, but she said it was needed to bring some accountability for her crimes. “Certainly one of the victims in this case, and the actions of Annie Dookhan, is the public trust,” Coakley said.

Dookhan’s lawyer, Nicolas A. Gordon, would not comment after Friday’s hearing. He had asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol S. Ball to sentence Dookhan to no more than a year in prison.

Dookhan admitted to filing false test results and mixing drug samples, and to later lying under oath about her job qualifications, but she said it was only to boost her work performance.

Prosecutors had asked that Dookhan serve 5 to 7 years in prison, but Ball kept to her earlier decision that she would sentence the chemist to 3 to 5 years, finding that, while Dookhan was a “broken person who has been undone by her own ambition,” the consequences of her crimes were still “nothing short of catastrophic.”

State Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House Republican leader, expressed disappointment with the sentence. “You walk away feeling this is really inadequate to what has happened, and the ramifications that it has had, and is going to have, on the criminal justice system,” Jones said. “Three to five years is not adequate.”...

By all accounts, the scandal at the Hinton laboratory in Jamaica Plain is the worst to hit the state’s criminal justice system in recent memory, and is still deepening. Officials have determined that Dookhan was involved in more than 40,000 cases at the lab from 2003-2012, possibly tainting the integrity of the evidence in those cases.

Defendants have asked that their convictions be tossed, or that they be released from prison as they seek new trials. Public safety officials feared their release would create a crime wave. So far, the state has spent $8.5 million reviewing the drug cases and holding special hearings for defendants, and officials have budgeted an additional $8.6 million, expecting the costs to increase.

As of Nov. 5, according to the state Trial Court, 950 people have been given special Superior Court hearings in eight counties, from Worcester east. Overall, through Nov. 5, the courts have held 2,922 hearings — in addition to their regular caseload — for defendants asking that their cases be dismissed or that they be released from jail.

By August, a year after the extent of Dookhan’s crimes were first discovered, a Globe review of court records showed that more than 600 defendants had convictions against them erased or temporarily set aside, or they have been released on bail pending new trials. Of those, at least 83 defendants — about 13 percent of the total — had been arrested and charged with other crimes. In one case, a Brockton man released from prison last fall because Dookhan was involved in his case was arrested for allegedly killing a man in a drug dispute in May.

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said that the lab scandal has burdened district attorneys and the courts. At times, the courts have had to release prisoners or grant them new trials “in the interests of fair justice,” he said. “It’s something that we’re going to be trying to correct for quite a period of time,” O’Keefe said.

But he and defense lawyers also agreed that the woes will not end with Dookhan’s sentence. Defense lawyers have called on the state Trial Court to set up an independent special court system to review evidence that was handled not only by Dookhan, but by anyone from the Hinton laboratory. The lab, which was closed by State Police in 2012, handled more than 190,000 cases since the early 1990s.

November 23, 2013 at 06:36 PM | Permalink


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There are also some interesting Melendez-Diaz and withdrawal-of-guilty plea questions here. http://joshblackman.com/blog/2013/11/23/convicted-lab-chemist-in-massachusetts-melendez-diaz/

Posted by: Josh Blackman | Nov 23, 2013 6:38:44 PM

If you as a society are going to kill humans for being evil then what is more evil than this? It is worse than theft, it is assault, it is robbery, it is as bad as anything up to murder. If any victims died because of their incarceration or disgrace then the death penalty would be fair.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Nov 23, 2013 6:59:03 PM

Liberty1st --

I'm glad to see there's a case in which you think the DP would be fair.

It would not be fair here, nor legal under Kennedy v. Louisiana, but a sentence of three to five years is woefully inadequate for the damage she has caused (possibly) innocent people and public faith in the criminal justice system.

I have no idea why the story starts off by reporting that she has a "disabled child." This is relevant? Does anyone think the people she damaged might also have children?

I don't blame her lawyer for refusing comment. What's he going to say? That she needs counseling?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 23, 2013 8:44:38 PM

Au contraire, Bill. Kennedy v. Louisiana doesn't speak to crimes that have major impacts on society as a whole, e.g., drug kingpins.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 23, 2013 9:17:19 PM

federalist --

My reading of Kennedy is that it rules out the DP for crimes that do not more-or-less directly lead to death, except for treason or other grave if inchoate injuries to national security.

Of course I think it was wrongly decided and that Alito's dissent blows the majority opinion out of the water. Unfortunately, I was not given a vote.

But one way or the other, the offense here, while very damaging, would not be eligible for the DP in a world I would construct.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 23, 2013 10:48:46 PM

I am enjoying hearing Liberty 1st, federalist and Bill Otis talk through their visions of a fair and effective death penalty. Go on all three, perhaps will Bill starting by explaining what offenses would be eligible for the DP in a world he would construct. Inquiring law profs want to know!

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 24, 2013 1:09:27 PM

"Our concern here is limited to crimes against individual persons. We do not address, for example, crimes defining and punishing treason, espionage, terrorism, and drug kingpin activity, which are offenses against the State."

I don't know that I think that death is necessarily appropriate, but I wouldn't be too troubled about it. I think that the Pa. judges that rigged juvenile sentences should have gotten the death penalty.

The problem, ultimately, with this sentence is that she likely put innocent people in jail. That's akin to armed kidnapping. And that's a serious penalty.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 24, 2013 1:18:46 PM

Oh, and Doug, where does "fair" come into play. The death penalty doesn't have to be fair, for reasons well explained in previous posts.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 24, 2013 1:20:12 PM

Abuse of power is among the greatest of crimes and should be punished as such. In my estimation Annie Dookhan deserves a greater punishment than a garden-variety burglar or even robber, many of whom are serving decades more time than she got. I agree that the DP should be off the table, but she is in all likelihood responsible for innocent people going to prison, and her sentence should match the aggregate of theirs, day for day.

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | Nov 24, 2013 1:24:20 PM

I too agree that abuse of government power is among the most serious of offenses (I am in fact more concerned about such abuses than about garden variety murderers) and believe that the penalty should be commensurate with that seriousness. I believe execution would be an entirely just outcome for the activities outlined here.

We are forced to trust government and therefore government should be forced to be trustworthy.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 24, 2013 2:30:34 PM

jesus, you guys derail every single thread. this article has nothing to do with the death penalty.

Posted by: HGD | Nov 24, 2013 3:23:52 PM

federalist: Because I do not (personally) understand the concept of "justice" in non-faith-based-terms, I tend to talk about sentencing systems/outcomes in terms of whether they are "fair and effective." For some, fairness is a deontological consideration, but for me it is a consequentialist one: psychological studies reveal people are more content and more likely to follow rules/laws/systems that they perceive to be fair.

Ergo, I worry that obviously unfair sentencing systems/outcomes --- e.g., systems which regularly punish the innocent or dissidents or execute persons for crimes like marijuana drunk driving --- would create far more instability and disutility in the long run than a fair sentencing system. Of course, such a system might be effective in reducing crime in the short-term, and that is why I advocate for systems that are fair AND effective.

I am not sure what values you embrace for the death penalty or other sentencing systems, but if it is based on some conception of "justice," I am eager to hear whether you think conceptions of justice are fixed or evolved and when/how these conceptions are properly identified and modified.

P.S. Sorry to HGD that this has become another DP discussion, but I am actually finding this one a bit more interesting than most.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 24, 2013 3:58:26 PM


"Because I do not (personally) understand the concept of "justice" in non-faith-based-terms, I tend to talk about sentencing systems/outcomes in terms of whether they are "fair and effective.""

I tend to follow the ideas of Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the Brothers Kharamozov, if there is no God, then everything is lawful.

I happen to have my own beliefs in God, however. For non-believers, I can only guess that their god is the state.

Hence you have the Separation of Church and State, the State doesn't want the competition. In fact, I would be willing to bet that recently, the State has superceded and become the "church" to most people.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 24, 2013 7:05:07 PM

The 36-year-old mother of a disabled child, whose marriage fell apart in the months after the scandal,..

Does the writer of this article want the reader to have compassion for someone who railroaded innocents to prison?

Thousands of lab analysts manage to keep their marriages simply by not making false forensic reports.

Let's hope the folks she send to jail will get settlements not from taxpayers'pockets but from hers or, at last, share a cell with her.

Posted by: visitor | Nov 25, 2013 12:52:49 PM

I am a medical professional concerned about the current state of regulatory medicine and erosion of science, evidence-base, critical thought, and professional ethics. Dark clouds on the horizon.

Unfortunately without transparency, regulation, and oversight corruption is inevitable. Whether the motives are "noble cause" or selfish, without oversight and regulatory systems in place it is inevitable. Public scrutiny is necessary. Barriers of secrecy and concealment are inexcusable.

Transparency, oversight, regulation, and consequences are the only approach to prevent this from recurring. Dookham got a light sentence as the "fall guy" for the larger groupthink -aiders and abetters who either encouraged her or looked the other way. Bullies empowered by ideology.

There should be zero tolerance for lab fraud yet it continues as SOP. Nothing has changed, It is standard operating procedure and getting worse. Black and white thinking, ends justifies the means simple mindedness, Work arounds to avoid investigation, scrutiny, and responsibility.

See links below. Shows how easy it is to request a positive drug test. Client requests that ID # and "chain of custody" be added to an already positive sample so they can report a positive. Lab does it without compunction.

Same DPH contracts this group as the one who ran the lab. Inexcusable on every level-procedurally, ethically, and legally. The lab was forced to retract the test 1.5 years later after a complaint was filed with the College of American Pathologists. But the requesting agency with no oversight or accountability answers to no one.

Medical Society, DPH,and Attorney Generals Office all sent copies of "litigation packet" but not one reply. Just silence.

Be it obtusity, oversight, or complicity, apathy and disinterest of the administrative powers is repugnant in a free and open society

“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”
― Robert F. Kennedy


http://bit.ly/1dj768V @WarrenMullaney1

Posted by: Warren Mullaney | Nov 26, 2013 4:53:42 PM

These are the links. Cutoff in original post

@ WarrenMullaney1



Posted by: Warren Mullaney | Nov 26, 2013 5:14:01 PM

Name a human enterprise, there will be 1% rate of misconduct. This lab acted as agent of the government. That is where torts come in, to regulate without oppressive regulation. A 1% rate is still intolerable, because of the impact on so many people. It must be eradicated by continual verification, investigation of error, and system wide corrections, rather than simplistic scapegoating.

That being said, compare to the lawyer profession. There is a 90% false negative rate in that 90% of serious crime goes unanswered. Then when they have a guy, 20% of the time, it is the wrong guy, even in death penalty circles, after spending a $million on a case, with a quarter of the wrong guys having been made to confess by these incompetents, these idiots. That is one profession that is overly ripe for tort liability and exemplary damages.

Worse than extreme incompetence. They believe they are the best.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 26, 2013 6:18:06 PM

I remember the "big stink" that arose when prosecutors and LE types objected to the narrow Supreme court decision that a defendent could challenge the person(s) who prepared a Certified Lab Report" in Court. Just think of the wasted time and expense!

No wonder, they were taking valuable dry lab time away to be able to railroad other defendents.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 26, 2013 8:04:48 PM

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