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.