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Mass. Crime Lab Scandal Threatens 34,000 Drug Cases

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #751)
Politics & Advocacy

Some 34,000 eastern Massachusetts drug cases could go up in smoke in the wake of a still unfolding scandal around a state laboratory analyst who resigned under fire earlier this year. State Police have notified prosecutors that some 64,000 drug samples involving the cases may be tainted because of alleged misconduct by former analyst Annie Dookhan in conducting tests on substances submitted to her by them.

Dookhan worked at the Hinton crime lab in Jamaica Plain from 2003 until she resigned in June. According to the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which was briefed on the scandal by the Deval Patrick administration last week, the meeting revealed why State Police are now questioning the reliability of the drug evidence Dookhan worked on.

"The lab analyst in question had unsupervised access to the drug safe and evidence room, and tampered with evidence bags, altered the actual weight of the drugs, did not calibrate machines correctly, and altered samples so that they would test as drugs when they were not," the association wrote in a letter to its members.

Executive Office of Public Safety and Security spokesman Terrel Harris confirmed to the Boston Globe that Dookhan had "unsupervised access to the evidence lockup," but declined to address the other allegations in the association's letter, saying they were the focus of an ongoing investigation.

Dookhan's misconduct came to light after her coworkers at the Department of Public Health lab told State Police last year they would not testify under oath about the results of drug tests she performed. But there were signs going back years that something funny was going on.

In 2004, for instance, Dookhan whipped through some 9,239 samples while her colleagues averaged only one-third that number of drug tests. Last year, the Department of Public Health discovered misconduct by Dookhan, but downplayed it, telling law enforcement mistakes had occurred on only one day and had only affected 90 cases. The department also waited six months before alerting police and prosecutors to the problem.

The Dookhan scandal has left heads rolling in its wake. Last Thursday, state officials announced that the lab director, Dr. Linda Han, had resigned and the director of analytical chemistry, Julie Nassif, had been fired. Dookhan's direct supervisor now faces disciplinary hearings, too.

[Update: Now, more heads have rolled. On Monday, Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach fell on his sword, resigning with a public statement. It was clear there was "insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers" at the lab, which his department had overseen before it was transferred to state police as part of a budgetary realignment. "What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system." Auerbach said in the statement. "We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened."]

Dookhan's fiddling with the drug evidence is so damaging because prosecutors have to prove that substances seized by police are scientifically proven to be illegal drugs and that they have not been tampered with between arrest and trial.

While the state has set up an ongoing conference of prosecutors, defense lawyers, court officers, and others to review the cases that might be affected, defense attorneys are already beginning to file motions for dismissal in pending cases and prosecutors in three counties -- Plymouth, Norfolk, and Suffolk -- have begun asking judges to reduce or eliminate bail requirements in cases where they have confirmed that Dookhan was involved in the drug testing. But prosecutors also vowed to try to convict if there is credible evidence.

"If someone is held or convicted on tainted evidence, we won't hesitate to take every appropriate step to bring the case to light and correct the record,’’ Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement last Thursday. "But if there are credible facts and evidence to support the legitimacy of an implicated case, we'll work just as hard to ensure that the defendant is held accountable."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Mark Mitcham (not verified)

Drug cases should be air-tight, and water-tight, to avoid ruining your drugs.

Or am I missing the point?

(Just kidding.  Only good drug case is one in which protects drugs from damage

and theft.  Protect your kids.  Then, protect your drugs from your kids.)

Fri, 09/14/2012 - 7:11pm Permalink
kelemi (not verified)

Her incompetence/zeal turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Sun, 09/16/2012 - 7:41am Permalink
Paul Pot (not verified)


This is not a scandal, this is a conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity. 

Dookhan and the others involved are looking at very long prison terms for what they have done. 

Register to vote for marijuana reform in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas Montana, Massachusetts and hopefully North Dakota and any reform friendly politician. 

Gary Johnson for president. 

Legalize! Apologize! Compensate! Prosecute the Perpetrators! 

War is Over! 


Tue, 09/18/2012 - 5:50am Permalink
Dr.H (not verified)

Why are these people allowed to resign? Why are charges not being filed all the way up?


Fri, 09/21/2012 - 10:56am Permalink
Nonesuch (not verified)

They are allowed to resign because they've got money and connections, unlike most of the innocent people their willful ignorance sent to jail and who, maybe, will be told one day to get out of their cell and scram.
Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:27pm Permalink
Warren Mullaney (not verified)


You can leave a comment here:


See attached--PHS, inc is the "impaired physicians " organization" that is  a front for the 12-step prohibitionist that coerces and controls doctors under the guise of  benevolence and USDTL  is a major forensic commercial drug testing lab.  What is important here is it is not just a rogue lab tech but Joseph Jones VP  of lab operations committing fraud.  fraud.  Take a look at the docs --shows how easy if is to fabricate a positive test on someone.  The paperwork suggests adding a collection date and unique identifier to show a chain of custody on an already positive sample is SOP.  This shows

a lack of  integrity and grievous misconduct that puts into question the results of all testing done by both groups.   it is a public health emergency that needs exposure, accountability, and reform.



Documents showing forensic fraud between MA State contractor and a major forensic drug testing lab. Fabrication, collusion, and crime

Sun, 09/08/2013 - 11:16pm Permalink

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