64,000 drug-bust samples in Mass. were processed by a dirty lab tech who tampered with them, altered weight, faked positive tests for illegal substances

Michael F sez, "There's a Massachusetts state crime lab scandal that hasn't yet received too much national attention (outside of the state)--and I thought it was worth sharing. It's been alleged that a single chemist (with forged education credentials) may be responsible for tampering with drug evidence that could have affected the outcome of up to 40,000 cases over the past 10 years. Based on the local coverage and on conversations with friends who are affiliated with the state lab (in an unrelated department), there's a good chance that an unprecedented number of drug convictions will be contested and overturned in the near future. "

From a Phillip Smith story on StoptheDrugWar.org:

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.

And of course, everyone knew about this long before the scandal broke. The dirty tech could process three times as many samples as her colleagues, so it was obvious something was going on. And of course, the Department of Public Health downplayed it, saying that the bad stuff was confined to 90 samples processed on one day. And of course, thousands of people went to jail because no one wanted to own up to this.

Mass. Crime Lab Scandal Threatens 34,000 Drug Cases [StoptheDrugWar.org]

Crime Lab Scandal Rocks Massachusetts [NPR]

(Thanks, Michael!)


  1. Thankfully, we can all sleep better knowing that the problem is a single rogue chemist, rather than a system where a single rogue chemist would have trivial unmonitored access to evidence and where there would be some perceived benefit to producing more and bigger positive results…

    If even a small fraction of the alleged tampering is demonstrated, Ms. Dookhan couldn’t possibly live long enough to serve the slammer time that she deserves; but I just hope that her spectacular fall doesn’t distract from whatever ghastly systemic problems would allow somebody to do dodgy work on that scale, for that long, without detection.

      1. I’m surprised that you are that sympathetic toward somebody who is almost certainly responsible for a nontrivial number of man-years of unjust imprisonment; but I’d say that  if she isn’t a future poster child for Massachusetts General Law Chapter 268 “Crimes Against Public Justice”, then it is hard to imagine who would be…

        Sections 1, 4, 6A, and 13E look particularly juicy, in addition to the possibility of civil or federal civil-rights related proceedings by the individual victims… 

      2. Ms. Dookhan couldn’t possibly live long enough to serve the slammer time that she deserves

        I think you might have read that as ‘killed in prison by one of the many she set up’, which was my first reading too. I think the OP really meant that if she’s charged on each count she might be sentenced to multiple times the average human life span. 

  2. This work was done under the auspices of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

    As I gather is true in many places, the DPH is the first place that loses flesh, bone, and marrow when politicians decide to “cut fat from the budget”. (Possibly tied with the Dept of Ed.)

    This crap is *exactly* the sort of thing that can happen when an organization has too few resources and too little structural stability.

    No doubt this will now be used as another example of how Government Can’t Do Anything Right and people will call for this function to be privatized. Which wouldn’t make this sort of thing any less likely to happen, but possibly even less likely to be caught. (Except private enterprise, therefore magic!)

    1. I just read a story lass week of a private analytical chemistry facility that was regularly employed in the elemental analysis of organic samples (i.e. a simple analysis if you have the instrument).  They were reliably faster, more accurate, and cheaper than their competitors.
      …that is, until someone submitted a sample with a purposely incorrect structure written on it.  The elemental analysis data matched exactly that of the incorrect structure, indicating that the data was faked.

      I am a scientist, and I know that the majority of work done is performed with n=1 sample size.  We don’t have the budget to perform even simple analytical experiments in triplicate, and if we did, research would slow and our future prospects would dim.  It’s no surprise that fraud occurs occasionally.

      1. Y’know, I read that as ‘pirate analytical chemistry facility’ at first. Seems like I was unconsciously correct.

        1. I don’t think much of our profession, but, contrasted with respectability, it is comparatively honest. No, Frederic, I shall live and die a Pirate King.

      2.  There is no excuse for drylabbing. There just isn’t. You’re no longer a scientist at that point. You’re a priest.

          1. I think danarmak was confused by acerplatanoides’ use of jargon, i.e. ‘drylabbing’, which I guess from context means something like ‘fake labwork’. But I don’t know for sure.

        1. Actually, since it’s evidence in a crime against political correctness, you’re not a priest at that point, you’re The Inquisition.  (Unless you’re deliberately finding most people not guilty, in which case you’re the Indulgences Department, but that’s seldom the case with widely corrupt cop labs.)

  3. I’m reminded of what people say whenever soldiers misbehave- it;s war, right? you have to expect bad things, it comes with the territory. And when you declare a war inside your own borders, there’s no turning back.

    1. Certain regrettable, albeit understandable, lapses of judgement may have occurred in the context of patriotic zeal and an, at times, stressful operating environment on the front lines of the war on drugs…

      1. Oh, I’m ubber pissed, but I’m not mad that I didn’t get a job because a fraud was hired instead.  No, I’m mad because a gross miscarriage of justice has been perpetrated for a decade and thousands of people have been disenfranchised and/or incarcerated with felony convictions when many were completely innocent or should’ve been convicted of misdemeanor possession.

          1. The Drug War is a profit-making business.  If they’re not going to pay for the raw materials and laborers they need, they shouldn’t get to maximize their profits.

  4. Maybe we need a law that says that if you lie to get someone jailed (which would include cops coercing witnesses, fabricating or hiding evidence, etc), you serve the sentence in their place.

    Under such a law, Ms. Dookhan might be eligible for up to 64,000 sentences, served consecutively.

    1. “Section 13E. (a) As used in this section the following word shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meaning:—“Official proceeding”, a proceeding before a court or grand jury, or a proceeding before a state agency or commission, which proceeding is authorized by law and relates to an alleged violation of a criminal statute or the laws and regulations enforced by the state ethics commission, the state secretary, the office of the inspector general, or the office of campaign and political finance, or an alleged violation for which the attorney general may issue a civil investigative demand.
      (b) Whoever alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the record, document or object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding, whether or not the proceeding is pending at that time, shall be punished, by (i) a fine of not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years, or in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years, or both, or (ii) if the official proceeding involves a violation of a criminal statute, by a fine of not more than $25,000, or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 10 years, or in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years, or both.
      (c) The record, document, or other object need not be admissible in evidence or free of a claim of privilege.
      (d) A prosecution under this section may be brought in the county where the official proceeding was or would have been convened or where the alleged conduct constituting an offense occurred.”

      It doesn’t quite have the ‘poetic justice done’ factor going for it; but if I were somebody who had ‘altered, destroyed, mutilated, or concealed an “other object”‘ on a potentially very large number of occasions, this would make me nervous…

    1. If so, she could probably earn a nice safe spot in the Witness Protection Program, and start over somewhere else.

      If not, I hope she enjoys prison.

  5. Look closer at Massachusetts:
    An overwhelmingly veto-proof Democratic majority, put in place by gerrymandered election maps that has resulted in:
    *Three consecutive state house speakers indicted, and found guilty of various federal charges. (IMHO, #4 is forthcoming.)
    *A state senator convicted of bribery.
    *A Boston city councilor convicted of bribery.
    *A state sheriff found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot as questions were being raised about inappropriate use of campaign contributions.
    And at the moment, a city housing chief is under the microscope for misuse of funds, and it’s looking like the Lieutenant Governor will be ensnared in that mess.
    Basically, Massachusetts is a fine example of why it’s important to keep the fox from guarding the hen house.

    1.  Everyone, state, private, whatever, acts more responsibly if they think someone is watching them, even if noone actually is. If there’s little threat of exposure and punishment, people will try to get away with all kinds of shite. That goes for Everyone!

    2. Uhhhhm. Pardon me, but you know Mitt Romney? He was gov here not that long ago. A Republican, as were 3 others of the last 5 governors here. As is one of our US senators (for now).

      I’m sure you think you sound like you know what you’re talking about, and its great fun to pick on the nerds, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Even our taxes here in “Taxachusetts” are lower than the national average, despite the healthcare mandate. 

      So, there.

    3. Ok I looked closer, and it helped confirm the idea that if Mittens touches it it all goes to shit.

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