Mass. Lab Scandal Leads to Fears of the Guilty Being Freed, Not So Much About the Innocent Being Jailed

Annie Dookhan, a former state lab technician in Massachusetts, is facing 27 different criminal charges in connection to a scandal rocking the state’s justice system. Her behavior has tainted potentially thousands of drug cases. The charges, announced today, range from tampering with evidence to perjury (she apparently lied about having a master’s degree) to obstruction of justice.

I want to start with a paragraph toward the end of today’s Boston Globe report in order to highlight what I think is a bit of a disturbing trend in the way the effects of the scandal are being talked about. Here’s the explanation of the kinds of misbehavior attributed to Dookhan:

According to [Massachusetts Attorney General Martha] Coakley’s statement, Dookhan allegedly “dry labbed’’ seized drugs, falsely certifying that she performed the required testing of seized suspected contraband when, in fact, she had not tested, but had merely made a visual examination.

Dookhan also allegedly tainted samples by mixing substances she knew were illegal drugs with samples she knew did not contain illegal substances. She also allegedly forged the initials of a supervisor on reports in an attempt to cover up her misdeeds, prosecutors allege.

So she mixed drugs into clean samples. You would think that from reading what Dookhan was accused of doing, the big fear would be the state convicting innocent people on the basis of contaminated tests.

But here’s how that very same story begins:

Former state chemist Annie Dookhan, who triggered a crisis in the state’s criminal justice system that has set convicted drug dealers free and may cost tens of millions of dollars to fix, is facing a 27-count indictment, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office said today. [Emphasis added.]

The emphasis is on setting drug dealers free. Here’s CBS reporting:

No one can explain why she did it, but 160 convicted criminals have already been freed, and local police are worried about a crime wave if hundreds more have to be released.

Coakley, said, "All of our local police chiefs can and should be worried about that, but we're determined to get it right in Massachusetts. We have to make sure the public has a sense the system works."

The argument presented further in the story is that many of these convicts had criminal records already, so they’re bad people. This apparently matters more than whether they were in fact guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. And the Boston Police are apparently preparing for some sort of possible “crime wave” that might happen if about 600 convicted prisoners are released. The City of Boston’s population is 625,000, but that number swells to millions if you include the Greater Boston region.

Hilariously, in one of the CBS videos, they point out that eight of the 158 prisoners released by the scandal thus far have been rearrested on new charges. Eight of them. That’s five percent.

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  • Sevo||

    "No one can explain why she did it, but 160 convicted criminals have already been freed, and local police are worried about a crime wave if hundreds more have to be released."

    Uh, we have a crime wave; those people were convicted with tainted evidence. Those convictions are crimes.

  • ||

    To the state-fellating media, everything the state does is right. Even falsely convicting people.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Better a thousand innocent people are convicted than one guilty person go free.

  • John||

    I love how they call them "convicted criminals" like every one is without a doubt factually guilty.

  • Whahappan?||

    Also conveniently forgetting that they were convicted BECAUSE SHE FALSIFIED EVIDENCE!

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    +1 LOL!! "State-fellating media" ha!

  • SIV||

    If these people are criminals beyond the drug charges maybe the DA should have thought about convicting them of those crimes. I guess it was just easier to railroad "dry lab" them.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hilariously, in one of the CBS videos, they point out that eight of the 158 prisoners released by the scandal thus far have been rearrested on new charges.

    They've said they were keeping an eye on those released. The coppers were no doubt waiting to pounce. The ex-cons probably should have left Boston altogether.

    Prosecutors and police officers never have any doubt the people they've nabbed are guilty. (Only the arrogance that comes with near-absolute authority can allow something like that.) Each LEO wasn't upset that she helped them out with the evidence; they probably expect it from support personnel to some degree. But she was doing it for everyone else and got caught, that was her sin.

  • Brandybuck||

    Imprison the innocent and let God sort them out!

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    A couple of months ago I was on a jury in a drug trial, and while we were waiting in the jury room before the trial started, before one scintilla of evidence had been presented, about 4 of the jurors were already referring to the defendant as "the drug dealer".

  • ||

    So what was the verdict?

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Plea bargain I'm sure

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Yep, plea bargain. After they locked us in the jury room for 4 hours.

  • Sevo||

    HIH did you end up on a drug-charge jury? Didn't you sort of make it clear that you figgered drug laws to be irrelevant?

  • SIV||

    Tulpa?

    lol

  • Sevo||

    Guess I've missed some 'evidence'.
    There is no way in hell I'd ever be seated on a drug-charge jury; the prosecutors'd rather have Willy Nelson than me.

  • AlmightyJB||

    There is no reason you need to tell any of those assholes the truth.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    At least in PA, the initial form you fill out as a jury candidate is under penalty of perjury. And it asks if you agree to follow the judge's instructions no matter what. If you check NO, as you would have to do if you intend to nullify, they're going to probe that in voir dire.

  • Invisible Finger||

    If the judge instructed me to go fuck myself, I wouldn't follow his instructions. That has nothing to do with nullification.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I don't believe in jury nullification so my opinions on drug laws are irrelevant wrt jury service.

    And TBH, I'm the best friend a drug defendant could have on a jury, as I will expect the state's evidence to meet a much higher standard than the average juror will demand. Getting kicked out of the jury pool doesn't help give defendants a fair shake.

  • Sevo||

    Tulpa (LAOL-PA)| 12.17.12 @ 9:14PM |#
    "I don't believe in jury nullification so my opinions on drug laws are irrelevant wrt jury service."

    I guess you could say I 'believe in jury nullification'.
    Or you could say there's no way I'd vote to convict anyone of a 'crime' which isn't a crime.
    Is that the same thing?

  • Tonio||

    Sevo, what's the first rule of fight club?

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Socialist.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and who's the TEBOW promoter on the board? At least Obozo hasn't camera-whored over the guy's chance to play football, unlike Kaepernick.

  • Ted S.||

    Did I miss something wrt Obama and Kaepernick?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    BO commandeered the airwaves during the 49ers-Patriots game last night in an attempt to outdo Bob Costas for stupidity during a nationally televised football game.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    Just another example of the mass hysteria that comes with the drug war.

    In the recent debate between Asa Hutchinson and Nick Gillespie (with other guys who I didn't catch the names of) it was made mention that people who are convicted of drug offences are natural criminals. If they were not convicted of drug offences, they would end up convicted of rape, extortion, assault, murder, theft, or whatever rampant nonstop crime took their fancy.

    These people REALLy believe that drug dealers, as well as drug users, are simply dyed-in-the-wool criminal types. Every single one of them is irreparably evil and should be locked away forever.

    Makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

  • nicole||

    Well, it really is of a piece with the rest of the nonsense.

    Legislation such as gun control will magically prevent anyone from committing the crime the legislation creates.

    Ergo, anyone who does still do the outlawed thing is SO CRIMINAL AND HORRIBLE THEY DON'T EVEN FOLLOW THE RULES OF LEGISLATION.

    Ergo, anyone SO HORRIBLE would do absolutely any other crime, because all crimes are equally outlawed by the state.

  • Hugh Akston||

    What we really oughta do is get Tuff on Crime™. When criminals know that they'll be sentenced to 100 years in the electric chair for possession of an unapproved firearm/plant*, surely they'll straighten up and get real jobs.

    *unless they cop a plea or rat out someone else, which I'm sure would be super rare.

  • ||

    So this, then.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I was thinking of forcing people to watch pro tennis matches on TV, but I guess the agony booth is a lot more humane.

  • ||

    I'm a glutton for punishment, Hugh. But the Australian Open isn't for a month.

  • Ted S.||

    Some of us like tennis, although it depends on who's playing.

    Federer/del Potro? Great.

    Nadal/Murray? Bleah. And when the hell are the chair umpires going to start calling time violations on a regular basis?

  • ||

    Tsonga/Isner would be interesting.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    *unless they cop a plea or rat out someone else, which I'm sure would be super rare.

    Or they're cops that plea.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    You would think that from reading what Dookhan was accused of doing, the big fear would be the state convicting innocent people on the basis of contaminated tests.

    That's funny.

    A conviction is a conviction.

  • Drake||

    As the primary quotes came from Martha Coakley, I did not expect any concern for justice or logic.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Why in God's name did I click on a link to Huffington Post? I know better and yet I did it anyway. These people clearly are the scum that scum scrape off their shoes.

  • John Thacker||

    Radley Balko posts there now, so it's certainly not all bad.

  • Raven Nation||

    Don't worry, she'll be OK. From the AP report:

    "Annie Dookhan was quiet, unassuming, not one to wear makeup. She was charming but stood out more for her dedication to her studies, and by all accounts appeared headed for success. The only child of hard-working immigrant parents" AND

    "Dookhan's struggle with both personal and professional problems in 2009 - including a miscarriage and a legal ruling that put new pressures on chemists at the lab - may help offer an explanation, one former co-worker said."

    More here:

    http://www.metrowestdailynews......ie-Dookhan

  • Sevo||

    "Dookhan's struggle with both personal and professional problems in 2009 - including a miscarriage and a legal ruling that put new pressures on chemists at the lab - may help offer an explanation, one former co-worker said."

    Yeah, that and a presumption that whining justifies being an asshole. That could offer an explanation.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I assume they're referring to the new requirement that lab techs be ready to testify in court to back up their results.

  • Raven Nation||

    Yep. That's where the perjury charges stem from: falsified her c.v. that was submitted as part of that process.

    What I thought was fascinating was the reactive determination by AP to paint her as a victim (of various things) and therefore not fully responsible.

    Be interesting if one of the people who went to jail was physically injured during their incarceration: that could really open things up.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    She's a female minority child of immigrants.

    So she's a multiple victim.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Like you wouldn't tap it.

  • John Thacker||

    But surely she has nothing to fear from the law and the courts if she's done nothing wrong, right? Isn't that the logic when the shoe's on the other foot, with the people she's putting in prison? So long as all her lab tests are run correctly, she should have no trouble in court being cross examined.

    Hard to see this incident as being anything other than a vindication of Melendez-Diaz.

  • waaminn||

    Oh wow that sounds like a real hoot to me. Wow.

    www.PrivacyRules.tk

  • Invisible Finger||

    Politicians and "newspeople" are just drama peddlers. They aren't defenders of anyone but themselves.

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