Annie Dookhan is back in the news today. She is the former laboratory technician at the Hinton State Drug Laboratory in Boston, MA who pled guilty last summer to multiple felonies, including tampering with evidence, perjury, obstruction of justice and falsely claiming that she had a masters degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts.
She admitted in court during her guilty plea that she had falsely claimed in many cases since she started working at the lab in 2003, that she had detected the presence of particular controlled substances in drug exhibits by using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCMS), which has been the universally accepted methodology used in crime laboratories since the 1970s. Instead, she had based her opinions on her own visual examination of the drug exhibits, which is an unreliable and unacceptable method. Her excuse was GCMS takes too much time.
The court sentenced Dookhan to prison for a term of 3 to 5 years. She will be subject to supervision for a 2 year period after she is released from prison.
I believe this sentence is absurd because it fails to take into account her violation of the public trust and the havoc that she caused to the defendants and their families in the cases that she handled .
CNN reported in November that officials in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration were concerned that more than 40,000 defendants might have been affected by the scandal. Governor Patrick shut down the lab and ordered Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to commence an investigation to review all of the cases processed by the lab since 2003 to determine (1) whether other laboratory analysts also faked their results and (2) how many defendants were wrongfully convicted.
CNN is reporting today that the Office of the Inspector General has concluded Dookhan acted alone. The OIG report states,
Dookhan was the sole bad actor at the Drug Lab. Though many of the chemists worked alongside Dookhan for years, the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) found no evidence that any other chemist at the Drug Lab committed any malfeasance with respect to testing evidence or knowingly aided Dookhan in committing her malfeasance.
The [lab] directors were ill-suited to oversee a forensic drug lab, provided almost no supervision, were habitually unresponsive to chemists’ complaints and suspicions, and severely downplayed Dookhan’s major breach in chain-of-custody protocol upon discovering it.
‘John Auerbach [the former Department of Public Health Commissioner who resigned when the scandal broke] and his staff failed to respond appropriately to the report of Dookhan’s breach of protocol’ and ‘the investigation DPH conducted was far too narrow.’
all samples in which Dookhan was the primary chemist should be treated as suspect and be subject to careful review.
The Inspector General’s Office will be supervising the retesting of all samples assigned to Dookhan, plus 2,000 additional samples in which other tests were conducted, but the results were not reported.
Photo by Horia Varlan released under a Creative Commons license.