Forensic chemist Annie Dookhan was the “sole bad actor” in a crime lab scandal that has engulfed the state of Massachusetts, according to a report released on March 4 by the state’s inspector general. However, the investigation found that Dookhan’s misdeeds were enabled by extensive management failures at the lab where she worked.
“The 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 behavior upon discovering it, says the report, from the office of Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha.
Dookhan was sentenced to three to five years in prison on Nov. 22, 2013. She pleaded guilty to 27 charges including perjury, tampering with evidence, and obstruction of justice. At a March 4 press briefing, Cunha told reporters that approximately 500 individuals had been released from state prisons because Dookhan was involved with their cases. Her crimes called into question the integrity of results at the lab where she worked, the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute. As a result, Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) closed the lab in 2012.
The probe concluded that no other chemists at the lab committed similar offenses or aided Dookhan. However, training at the lab was limited, with no opportunities for continuing education. “Due to financial constraints, chemists’ requests for funding to attend external meetings and trainings were repeatedly denied,” the report says.
“Both competency and continued proficiency should be achieved by every scientist in a forensic laboratory,” says Kenneth E. Melson of George Washington University, who has been a senior adviser on forensic science for the Department of Justice. He notes that the report does not specifically recommend that all forensic chemists be certified by a qualified body, but he calls for extensive training that would mirror such a certification process.
The report does recommend that all forensic laboratories in Massachusetts be accredited, echoing 2009 recommendations in a wide-ranging report from the National Academies. Last month, the federal government’s National Commission on Forensic Science met for the first time. The formation of that commission is the federal government’s first major attempt to address the 2009 report.
Also last month, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) reintroduced a bill aimed at promoting forensic research and establishing uniform forensic science standards.