Lab scandal prompts Massachusetts court to invalidate 21,000 drug convictions

Massachusetts’ highest court threw out approximately 21,000 drug convictions on Thursday following the revelation a former state employee tampered with evidence and falsified test results.

In a number expected to grow by as many as 3,000, the 21,000 tossed convictions is the largest number vacated in American history.

“Today is a major victory for justice, fairness, and the tens of thousands of people who were wrongfully convicted based on fabricated evidence,” said ACLU of Massachusetts director Carol Rose.

Annie Dookhan, 39, was convicted in November 2013 to a maximum five years imprisonment and an additional two years probation after she entered a guilty plea to falsifying drug tests, perjury and evidence tampering.  She was paroled in 2016.

Dookhan, also referred to as “Little Annie,” had been employed at Hinton Lab, a state-run forensics laboratory from 2003–’12 when in 2011 officials with the lab observed oddities in her work performance.

Authorities say Dookhan’s output was nearly double her counterparts; in 2004, she recorded 9,239 drug tests, and 11,232 in 2005, four times the average of fellow lab technicians.

In mid-2011, suspicion surrounding Dookhan’s work arose when she was confronted by superiors when she improperly signed out test samples.  Similarly, she was observed by employees of not using an accurate scale, forging signatures on official documents and misidentifying drugs in samples.

“Innocent persons were incarcerated.  Guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core.” said Justice Carol S. Ball of Suffolk County Superior Court in her opinion in 2013.

Dookhan was suspended from her duties in 2011, and resigned in early 2012.

Confronted by police months later, Dookhan admitted to falsifying test results and revealed she had “dry-labbed,” the practice of identifying samples visually instead of performing mandated tests.

Dookhan admitted she committed her crimes to achieve distinction in the workplace. It is estimated $47 million has been spent to correct the injustice.

 

[NPR] [New York Daily News] [Boston Globe] [Photo courtesy Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi via Boston.com]