Evidence

Chief US District Judge Says Mass. Crime Lab Problems Impact at Least 100 to 200 Federal Cases


It isn’t just thousands of state court cases that have been thrown into a state of uncertainty by problems at a Massachusetts facility that tests drug samples used to prosecute criminal cases.

Federal courts in Massachusetts also relied on the state’s crime laboratory to provide accurate information about evidence used in drug cases. The chief U.S. District Court judge there says federal prosecutors in at least 100 to 200 cases relied on testing performed by former state chemist Annie Dookhan, who is now under investigation for possibly deliberately mishandling drug samples, according to the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

And, when officials also take into account federal cases in which sentences may have been enhanced because of prior state convictions that may have been based on faulty evidence, the pool of potential problems spreads considerably, Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf said.

“I think people will be surprised to know that the work of the state Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain would have a substantial impact in federal court,” the judge said. “To me, it’s disturbing that the work of a state Department of Public Health lab has the potential to raise questions about the validity of decisions in a large number of cases in the United States District Court, and that significant resources will have to be diverted to address any such issues.”

A team of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and probation officers is reviewing cases for problems, with priority on those in which defendants are currently incarcerated, the articles say.

“We will do whatever we do in every case, which is to strive to assure proceedings are fair, results are appropriate, and to ensure public safety,” Wolf said.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Chemist’s Credibility Questioned, Doubt Cast Over Thousands of Criminal Cases”

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