Criminal Justice

Former Mass. chemist gets 3 to 5 years as probe of state crime-lab issues continues

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A former chemist for a Massachusetts drug laboratory who faked test results in order to appear more productive pleaded guilty Friday to 27 counts, including obstruction of justice and evidence-tampering, and was sentenced to a three-to-five-year prison term.

The sentence imposed on Annie Dookhan was above the standard maximum term, but less than the seven years that the government had sought in the Suffolk Superior Court case. The defense argued for one year, according to the Associated Press and the Boston Globe.

Judge Carol S. Ball explained in a written opinion that a hefty prison term was needed to appropriately punish and deter conduct that has done such extensive damage:

“The consequences of her behavior, which she ought to have foreseen, have been nothing short of catastrophic: Innocent persons were incarcerated, guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core.”

Officials say they have spent $8.5 million so far dealing with fallout from Dookhan’s work and have set aside another $8.6 million. Thousands of cases have been reviewed, and in at least 1,100 cases, convictions have been reversed or prosecutions have been dropped because of evidence issues. Up to 40,000 cases in eight counties could be affected. Prosecutors said she “dry labbed” much of her work, claiming that samples tested positive for drugs without actually performing tests on them.

Still unresolved is the extent to which such conduct may have permeated the justice system, as an inspector general investigation continues, said Martin W. Healy, who serves as general counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association.

“The legal community and the general public still have a number of unanswered questions about what’s gone on here. How deep was the problem? Is it really just isolated to Dookhan or does it go beyond that?’’

See also:

ABA Journal: “Crime labs under the microscope after a string of shoddy, suspect and fraudulent results” “Mass. Inmates Get Bond at Special Court Call, Boston Mayor Seeks $15M Over Crime Lab Test Issues”

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