Volume 91 Issue 48 | p. 6 | News of The Week
Issue Date: December 2, 2013

Former Massachusetts Forensic Chemist Annie Dookhan Sentenced To Three To Five Years In Prison

Forensics: Falsified drug test scandal threw state’s criminal justice system into disarray
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Analytical SCENE
Keywords: forensics, forensic science, Massachusetts, Annie Dookhan, crime lab
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A tear runs down Dookhan’s cheek during the Nov. 22 hearing. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison.
Credit: AP
Annie Dookhan at her Nov. 22 briefing where she was sentenced to 3-5 years in prison.
 
A tear runs down Dookhan’s cheek during the Nov. 22 hearing. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison.
Credit: AP

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.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
Comments
Swapnil B. Ambade (Tue Nov 26 22:41:02 EST 2013)
This is indeed catastrophic.

This case should be an eye opener.
Abraham Mark (Wed Nov 27 09:40:57 EST 2013)
This is sad. Annie Dookhan should have known that this profession is too sensitive for such practices.
William Rubin (Wed Nov 27 12:54:14 EST 2013)
I think she should get more than 3-5 years. Look at all the people (349) who have served jail time b/c of her actions. She should get one year in jail for every year her lying landed someone else in jail.
Rae (Thu Dec 05 16:09:38 EST 2013)
No, 349 convicts have been RELEASED because of her. Meaning, they should've stayed in jail but faulty "forensic evidence" cleared their names so they were released even though they were guilty.
B (Sat Dec 07 17:39:58 EST 2013)
Good grasp of "blind justice" Rae. Hope you aren't a forensic chemist.
Mike Gale (Wed Nov 27 19:22:46 EST 2013)
If you look at the details there's more to this than Dookhan.

Managers who she did favours for, and who overlooked her "astonishing level of productivity".

Prosecutors who went directly to her instead of through the normal channels.

Be interesting to see what has happened to them.
Paul E. Eckler (Mon Dec 02 13:43:15 EST 2013)
Rules of Evidence need to be Revised

The conviction of Crime Lab Chemist Annie Dookhan points to the need to modernize rules of evidence.

Chemists know that a batch of illegal drugs distributed in an area can result in samples being evidence in dozens of cases. Thorough testing of each sample might require a half day of lab time, even though packaging and physical properties like color, odor, particle size, and crystal shape easily identify those that are part of the same batch. In most cases, tests must prove only that the sample contained an illegal substance.

Ms. Dookhan's crime is apparently that she did representative testing rather than complete testing, and then lied about it in court.

The logical approach is to thoroughly test enough samples to establish the content of the master batch and then do sufficient testing on individual samples to prove they are part of that master batch. Courts should allow this more efficient testing procedure.
John Lentini (Thu Dec 19 15:02:08 EST 2013)
The really logical approach is to stop wasting so much treasure and so many lives in the war on drugs. The only winners in this stupid war are members of the prison-industrial complex.
Clay (Mon Dec 09 20:01:51 EST 2013)
Annie would have been a good fit in one of the synthetic organic chemistry groups at UCLA and no one would have ever known she was just making up numbers.

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