Issue Date: December 2, 2013
Former Massachusetts Forensic Chemist Annie Dookhan Sentenced To Three To Five Years In Prison
A former Massachusetts crime lab chemist who fabricated drug test results and upended the state’s criminal justice system was sentenced to three to five years in prison on Friday, Nov. 22. Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to 27 charges that included tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, and perjury.
Dookhan’s misconduct is at the heart of a far-reaching scandal in forensic science. The lab where she worked, the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute, was closed in 2012 by Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D). Cases involving more than 40,000 people may have been affected by her misdeeds, according to a report released in August by the governor’s office. According to the Boston Globe, agencies dealing with the aftermath of the scandal have spent $8.5 million so far this year reevaluating cases and evidence.
As of Oct. 17, 349 convicts had been released from state prison in connection with the Dookhan case, according to state officials. One of those freed, Donta Hood, has since been charged with a murder that was committed after he was released.
Dookhan was arrested on Sept. 28, 2012. According to a police report obtained by the Boston Globe, she told investigators that she lied under oath about holding a master’s degree in chemistry, intentionally contaminated drug samples, and routinely identified narcotics by sight rather than by chemical analysis. She initially pleaded not guilty but changed her plea last week.
The Dookhan saga has rekindled questions about oversight of forensic chemistry labs, questions that may soon be dealt with by the federal government’s newly established National Commission on Forensic Science. Most crime lab problems can essentially be chalked up to management issues, says chemist Jay A. Siegel, who served on a 2009 National Academies committee that recommended overhauling the U.S.’s forensic system. “Managers are at fault here for not doing proper monitoring of the personnel and not having comprehensive, verifiable policies and procedures in place,” Siegel says.
Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha is investigating operations at the shuttered state lab and is expected to issue a report in early 2014.
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