Massachusetts Drug Lab Scandal: It Looked Like Cocaine to Her

The Huffington Post reports that Annie Dookhan "was the most productive chemist" at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston, "routinely testing more than 500 samples a month, while others tested 50 to 150." Here is how Dookhan managed to be so efficient:

She sometimes would take 15 to 25 [drug] samples and instead of testing them all, she would test only five of them, then list them all as positive. She said that sometimes, if a sample tested negative, she would take known cocaine from another sample and add it to the negative sample to make it test positive for cocaine....

One co-worker told state police he never saw Dookhan in front of a microscope. A lab employee saw Dookhan weighing drug samples without doing a balance check on her scale.

In an interview with state police late last month, Dookhan acknowledged faking test results for two to three years. She told police she identified some drug samples as narcotics simply by looking at them instead of testing them, a process known as dry labbing. She also said she forged the initials of colleagues and deliberately turned a negative sample into a positive for narcotics a few times.

Dookhan was arrested last week and charged with obstruction of justice for lying about test results and pretending to have a master's degree in chemistry. The Post says "co-workers began expressing concern about Dookhan's work habits several years ago, but her supervisors allowed her to continue working." According to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, "the only motive authorities have found so far is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker." CBS News reports that "Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab." 

Radley Balko reveals the secrets of Steven Hayne, another remarkably productive forensic scientist.

[Thanks to Baked Penguin for the tip.]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    "Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab."

    Wow... just, wow. Fuck the War on Drugs People.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Well the consensus was that it was cocaine.

  • RPR2||

    In a sane world this would end the drug war.

  • ||

    In a sane world there never would have been a drug war.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    In a just world, she'd be tarred and feathered by the relatives of the people she helped imprison.

  • Drake||

    In this world it will still empty a couple of MA prisons.

  • sarcasmic||

    Her job is to help the DA get convictions. What's the big deal?

  • $park¥||

    There is much wailing up here about all the drug lords and kingpins that are going to be set free because of this. Within a year there will be drug addled corpses of children withering away in the streets, or something.

  • sarcasmic||

    They were all guilty anyway. The courts don't waste their time prosecuting innocent people. All this lady did was help the process along. So what's the big deal?

  • $park¥||

    The scared people who are going to be scared are scared and are worried about the incompetence. (good thing)
    A tiny section of people is openly wondering how someone incompetent could be in such a position. (good thing)
    A bunch of lazy-ass government workers are going to have to get off their lazy asses and do all that work again. (good thing)

  • AlmightyJB||

    The Schofield Kid: Well, I guess they had it... comin'.
    Will Munny: We all got it comin', Kid.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This poor woman would be arbitrarily and capriciously railroaded out of her job without a union watchdog to ensure she gets due process!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Nothing in the contract says specifically that if procedures AREN'T followed you'll be subject to discipline. Therefore...

  • $park¥||

    PATRIARCHY!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Not seeing the problem here. Of course you LiberTARDians would be against someone so effective at fighting drugs. Drugs are BAD, mm'kay?!

    You people make me sick.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    This also brings to mind the dad at Swamp Castle...

    "Let's not argue about....who killed who. This is a FESTIVE occasion..."

    /govt supvrs

  • Rasilio||

    Yeah but she doesn't look like she's got Uge Tracts o land so I'm thinkng she's going down

  • R C Dean||

    There's a lot of case law making it very hard to reopen a final criminal conviction. I suspect we'll see more that says this doesn't meet the test, so nothing to see here, move along, procedures were . . . well, never mind.

  • sarcasmic||

    Did one of the Kennedy family get busted for drugs or something?

    If her supervisors let this go on for years, then it must have been considered to be OK. The point is to get convictions, right?

    So I'm thinking that someone with political connections got popped, and this is their defense.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Shit just happens sometimes. I don't think the analogous fraud at the Houston Crime Lab was uncovered because they popped someone connected, but I could be wrong on that.

    Occasionally you run into someone with integrity. Shocking, I know.

    This doesn't even get into whether criminal forensic testing, when done in good faith, is helpful enough that it should be admitted as evidence. What forensic tests would have a prayer of passing a neutrally-administered Daubert or Frye hearing? DNA testing is about the only one I could think of offhand. (In practice, if this article's research is to be believed, pretty much every prosecutor's Daubert motion succeeds, and pretty much every defendant's fails. I'm sure that's entirely due to the weight of scientific evidence backing something like, e.g,. arson ignition source testing, and not due to judicial inertia.)

  • JW||

    The article mentioned her falsifying the initials of co-workers on forms, so that's probably what did it.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Delicious, delicious omelettes.

  • ||

    you reasonoid bigots need to calm down and wait for the investigation

    crime lab workers are OVERWELMINGLY a force for good

    i have known a lot of people at the crume lab, and they are all good people

    lots of former jocks gravitate toward crime lab work, they have former nfl pleyers, former olympians, etc...they get a lot of hot groupies too

  • ||

    But seriously, fuck this cunt.

  • Wally||

    She could have just as easily found them all negative. Wonder how long she would have lasted then.

  • AlmightyJB||

    until lunch her first day.

  • Fluffy||

    One huge problem here is that anyone who took a plea is probably SOL.

    Everyone who pled out allocuted.

    I talked about this case with a friend of mine who is a MA attorney, and he thought that a really aggressive defense attorney might be able to get past the allocution by saying that the defendant relied upon the lab results in order to allocute. IOW, it's not perjury to stand up and say, "Yes, your honor, I had cocaine in my pocket" if a state lab has told you that the substance you had was cocaine - so you could move to set aside your plea based on the fact that you relied on technical information from the state that is now suspect. BUT given the fact that the Commonwealth doesn't want to undo all these cases, it's very likely that the courts will find a way to reject such an argument.

  • ||

    Considering cops are allowed (encouraged?) to lie about evidence in order to extract a conviction, I tend to agree this won't amount to much for the likely vast majority that plead out.

  • Hyperion||

    I think that Canada has an immediate opening for this young ladies services, for some Daisy testing.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Daisie, Roses, Pansies. They're all Mary Jane.

  • Lyle||

    Who doesn't cut some corners in life?

    Sucks she wasn't found out sooner.

  • sarcasmic||

    FTA:

    "co-workers began expressing concern about Dookhan's work habits several years ago, but her supervisors allowed her to continue working."

    She was "found out" a long time ago. But no one cared.

    Which is why I think she only got "found out" when she mucked with an important person's evidence.

  • The Hammer||

    I assume this contemptible piece of shit will be serving the combined sentences of all the people she helped railroad, right?

  • JD the elder||

    Amen. She should spend the rest of her life in prison for knowingly and willfully sending innocent people there.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    According to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, "the only motive authorities have found so far is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker."

    Coakley is the genius the Democrats wanted to put in the United States Senate.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    In government, being earnest is more important than being honest.

  • JW||

    You keep lowering that bar, Coakley, all the way to Hell.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    James Cameron will raise it. James Cameron does not do what James Cameron does for James Cameron. James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is who James Cameron is.

  • db||

    Hey, not to be a dick or anything, but I sent this to Gillespie and Tuccile yesterday and have posted it twice in different threads.

    A forensic chemist in the Massachusetts State Laboratory Institute has been arrested on charges of falsifying instrument calibrations, forgery, and intentionally contaminating samples, among other charges. Thousands of convictions stand in question. The former President of the Massachusetts Bar Association says, "I don't think this is going to end with a single chemist...this is an ever-expanding spider web and I don't know where the end is going to lie."

    Watch for the Massachusetts prosecution community to go into full scapegoat mode. Someone needs to make sure the perverse incentives that lead to this kind of fraud do not go unreported, and that ethical breaches by prosecutors and police looking for convictions at all costs do not go unpunished.

    http://cen.acs.org/articles/90.....andal.html

  • BakedPenguin||

    I sent it to Sullum 4 or 5 days ago.

  • db||

    4 or 5 days? That's like an eternity. Your hat tip had already grown moldy by yesterday.

    Anyway, good show, man. This kind of story needs to be spread far and wide, so they can't get away with damage control and sweeping it hnder the rug.

  • BakedPenguin||

    It definitely needed to be read. Sickening.

  • JW||

    C'MON KARMA!

  • Rasilio||

    But wait, crime lab forensics are always right and they always find the right person, how can it be any other way when they always get it right on CSI? I mean that's a documentary or something right?

  • Mensan||

    Daily nut massage?

    A news story about one of the 1% of good cops who majority give a bad name.

  • robertsgt40||

    You would think someone would check her resume to verify her education. Those who put Dookhan in this position knew full well what they were doing. She's was a profit generator. No one else will swing. That other employee complaints when by the wayside speaks volumes.

  • Paul Pot||

    Please end the drug war.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement