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Last night, I mentioned that Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at a Massachusetts state drug lab, mishandled and falsified thousands of tests over a nine-year period.  When I went to bed, there was something that sickened me almost as much as the prospect that a whole bunch of innocent people may be in jail because of her.  It was the prospect that she could only get a slap on the wrist for a punishment.

Dookhan is currently charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of falsifying academic records.  The latter charge came after it emerged she'd lied about having a master's degree from UMass Boston.  She faces a maximum of 22.5 years in prison.  Yet, according to the Massachusetts sentencing grid, she could get as little as three years in prison, and could potentially get off with just probation.  I could be wrong here--and anyone reading this from Massachusetts can correct me.  But something about the prospect of her possibly getting such a light sentence doesn't sit well with me even if she has the good sense to plead guilty.

To her credit, Dookhan has at least admitted what she's done--she has told investigators, "I screwed up big time.  I messed up, I messed up bad."  But no thanks to her "screw-up," over 1,100 convictions could be tainted.  That fact alone demands a substantial upward departure from sentencing guidelines--one that entails at least five years in prison.  Throw in the fact that a good number of those may be manifestly guilty, but Dookhan's mishandling of their tests may put enough of a taint on their convictions that there may be no other choice but to let them go.  That also demands upward departure.

Am I calling for her to get the maximum?  Not by a longshot--she at least admitted what she did, unlike rogue forensic scientist Fred Zain, who went to his grave claiming he'd been railroaded.  But to my mind, anything less than five years in prison would be a joke.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Prison is for those who commit crimes against rich people.

    I just genetically engineer them, I don't nominate them for President.

    by happymisanthropy on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 12:52:24 PM PDT

  •  Yeah, if convicted she'll be going to jail (9+ / 0-)

    and they will throw the book at her because of the scandal of having to reverse all those convictions.

    The question in the press here is - will she be the only one going to jail. At the least, people knew she was an "easy" positive lab result.

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 01:01:03 PM PDT

  •  I'm from MA and I'll be surprised (7+ / 0-)

    if she gets off without jail time.

    This costs of this case, if it ever gets all unraveled, will be staggering. I'm not just taking monetary costs either. The lives of those who may have been innocent and have been sent to prison. They guilty who may walk free. The witnesses who testified that may be retaliated against. The careers that will be stunted or ruined.

    The scope is staggering.

    2012 bumper sticker: GOP = Greed.Oppression.Poverty

    by Barbie02360 on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 01:02:39 PM PDT

  •  And what of the larger problem? (10+ / 0-)

    Austerity is in fashion. Tom Keane puts it well:

    The lab, located in Jamaica Plain, was shabby and poorly managed. It was the state’s various district attorneys who most cared about prompt and accurate testing, but all they could do was complain from the outside (which they had been doing for years). Thus, for instance, Dookhan was testing up to 500 samples a month — three or four times as many as her fellow chemists. But the lack of supervision meant alarm bells were never triggered.

    Then too, the burden on the crime labs dramatically increased in 2009. That was the year the US Supreme Court concluded, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, that chemists physically had to show up in court and testify as to their findings. Before then, a written certification had been enough. Yet despite this new workload, the lab’s budget was cut.  ...

    Budget cuts created desperation. A lack of supervision created opportunity. What Dookhan did was wrong, but so too was the system that made it possible. The money now spent cleaning up this mess will be far greater than any once saved.

    It's Annie Dookhan, btw.  Not to quibble - it's just people won't find the case if they search for it under "Anna Doorhan."  

    "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

    by KateCrashes on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 01:05:06 PM PDT

  •  I think this is an excellent point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries

    and needs to be brought up more often.

    2012 bumper sticker: GOP = Greed.Oppression.Poverty

    by Barbie02360 on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 01:07:28 PM PDT

  •  How about waiting for the "guilty" first? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm all for punishing the guilty, but not happy to jump on a bandwagon that skips over everything between "arrested and charged" and "taken off to prison in handcuffs." Please let the legal process play out. The prosecutors seem quite intent on moving forward -- if only because it puts egg all over their faces, and will do so for months as judges consider thousands of motions to vacate convictions.

    •  I know, I was just thinking about a couple (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of fairly recent cases where manifestly guilty defendants ended up walking because of egregious blunders like this.  Ted Stevens was clearly guilty of corruption, but ended up having his conviction thrown out because prosecutors withheld evidence and may have knowingly allowed perjured testimony.  And five Blackwater guards had their charges thrown out because of the use of highly incriminating statements that they were required to make to State Department investigators--thus violating the Fifth Amendment.

      It's a catch-22--you don't want to see the guilty go free, but at the same time there are occasions where you have to in order to protect the legitimacy of the system.

      Romney-Ryan: America's Rollback Team

      by Christian Dem in NC on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 01:32:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  How about her supervisors... (4+ / 0-)

    Those who hired her without checking that her academic references were valid.

    And then there is something called quality control.  Sure, she deserves punishment, but when lives are on the line we do not rely on the integrity of one single individual.

  •   I would be more concerned abou freeing innocent (3+ / 0-)

    she has jailed than jailing her.

    There was another incident in Oklahoma City where a crime lab tech was putting down what ever the prosecutors wanted.

    To Goldman Sachs in according to their desires, From us in accordance with the IRS.

    by Bluehawk on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 01:59:36 PM PDT

  •  Re (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    soros, wilderness voice
    Throw in the fact that a good number of those may be manifestly guilty, but Dookhan's mishandling of their tests may put enough of a taint on their convictions that there may be no other choice but to let them go
    Considering these crimes are drug crimes, I don't consider this a 'problem' at all.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 02:11:12 PM PDT

  •  I can't imagine she'll get off with probation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    The hew and cry in both the Globe and the Herald is so loud. And while I haven't lived in Massachusetts long enough to know all the ins and outs of how the justice system works, I can see that this is a small state where people get very worked up about scandals -- I can't see how they could get away with giving her a slap on the wrist.

    I agree that if she was falsifying test results in ways that sent innocent people to prison, she needs to do some serious time herself.

    Please visit:

    by Noisy Democrat on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 06:16:30 PM PDT

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