When deciding whether an arrestee is guilty of a crime, the public typically will ask, “Well, what’s the evidence?” When they hear that the chemist made a determination about something, they believe that they can rely upon it. Why would someone in the scientific community like a chemist and/or toxicologist lie and/or manufacture evidence? Well, ask Annie Dookhan.
Annie Dookhan, a former Massachusetts state chemist, was just sentenced to three to five years in prison after entering guilty pleas to 27 criminal charges, including, tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice and perjury. She was involved in an extensive scheme to defraud over nine years which included lying about the presence of drugs in test samples. A review of her work revealed that she falsified tests, lied about her academic credentials while testifying at trials, and forged initials of an evidence officer to conceal her misconduct.
While the state believes that approximately 40,000 cases may have been compromised by this woman, the ACLU believes the number is much higher. The lab in which Dookhan worked handled more than 100,000 cases while she was employed there.
As a result of her criminal actions, hundreds of criminal convictions have already been thrown out. I agree with Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley who stated, “Her deliberate decision to tamper with drug evidence and fabricate test results harmed the integrity of the system and put the public’s safety at risk.”
The question is, “Why?” The answer, “Only she knows.” Through all of this, no one knows exactly why she did what she did. The unfortunate fact is, she did.
As a result of her unlawful and unethical actions, the criminal justice system is even less sacred than it was. Our confidence in the process is further eroded. If we can’t rely on the simple findings of a scientist, who it would appear has no interest in the outcome of any particular criminal case, then how can we rely upon anyone involved in the process? I’m just hoping and praying that this is just one extremely rare bad apple. I can’t handle the thought that there are others like her out there. As I’ve said numerous times before, our criminal system is the best in the world. Unfortunately, being the best doesn’t mean the justice system always produces justice. This scandal will serve of that painful reminder.