A former chemist at a Massachusetts drug lab was arrested yesterday after being accused of mishandling and falsifying thousands of tests. As a result, a good number of drug convictions in the Boston area are now in doubt.
Annie Dookhan was arrested at her home outside Boston.Dookhan told investigators, "I screwed up big time. I messed up, I messed up bad." Considering the ramifications, that can only be described as an understatement.
Police said the former state crime lab chemist admitted that she altered or faked test results of drug cases assigned to her. Prosecutors said she went as far as adding cocaine to samples that were negative.
"There was clearly a short cutting of corners," State Attorney General Martha Coakley said. "There was just getting this done as quickly as possible and all of that we're looking at."
Officials said during her nine years the lab, Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples. About 11,000 people now in jail were put there in part due to her work.
Dookhan came under scrutiny in part because she tested more than 500 samples a month--five times the average. And yet, her supervisor claimed to have never seen her in front of a microscope. She also had a bad habit of misidentifying samples.
The scandal started brewing in December, when she was suspended for not signing things in and out. After an investigation revealed she'd cut corners on several of her tests, she resigned in March. Further investigation revealed she'd gone as far as outright faking several tests--including dousing non-drug substances with cocaine to make them look positive. She'd also lied about getting a master's degree at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
The ramifications of Dookhan's actions are staggering. State officials think that at least 1,140 drug convictions are now in doubt. Additionally, dozens of defendants in the Boston and Cambridge areas have already had their bail reduced due to concerns about tainted evidence. At least one defense attorney thinks that more than a few "very dangerous people" could end up walking because of this.
Dookhan currently faces as much as 22.5 years in prison if she's convicted on all three counts of obstruction of justice and falsifying academic records. However, it looks like under Massachusetts sentencing guidelines, she could get as little as three years (based upon a peek at the sentencing guidelines grid--anyone from Massachusetts can correct me). Given how reckless (at the very least) her behavior was and that it may have led to a lot of innocent people going to jail, I'm hoping for significant upward departure here.