False convictions and improper sentencing almost certain after lab debacle

A dumbfounding revelation has closed down one of Massachusetts’ three criminal drug labs. Governor Deval Patrick ordered state police to shutter the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain after a probe showed that the actions of a single chemist may have tainted countless articles of evidence. Such a disclosure threatens to cripple the integrity of possibly thousands of convictions according to Anthony Bendetti, chief counsel for the committee of Public Counsel Services.

State Police Colonel Timothy Alben has confirmed that this particular lab conducted about half of the state’s testing. Cases from the counties of Suffolk, Bristol, Norfolk, the cape and islands, and sometimes Middlesex and Essex are all involved. Currently, the main priority is to determine how deep the violation of procedures goes.

The state’s eleven district attorneys have requested lists of the possibly contaminated tests. They also released a joint statement vowing to take swift action if confronted with unjust convictions or inappropriate sentencing. Furthermore, public defenders have been assured that they will be provided with a list of all cases that may have been compromised as soon as possible. Notable Massachusetts defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio averred that state defense attorneys have been aware of the allegations for some time and have been awaiting the lists of affected cases.

The concern that there may be many, if not just several, people falsely convicted due to the improprieties looms heavily. But the Attorney General’s office must also be troubled by the potential cost of having to retry so many cases due to appeals.

According to the Department of Public Health, an investigation first revealed irregularities in June of 2011. The chemist in question, Annie Dookhan of Franklin, was then removed from her duties. Nine months later, Dookan resigned from the lab. But her departure came after further inquiry exposed inconsistencies in her log in December of 2011. State Police have been running the lab since this July 1 of this summer as per the state’s 2013 fiscal budget.

Authorities are still trying to ascertain what exactly happened, how it happened, and exactly how many cases have been adversely affected. State police are also working with the office of the Attorney General to determine if there was any malice or premeditated wrongdoing involved. Dookhan has not been suspected of stealing drugs or trying to intentionally influence the outcome of cases. But her log did reveal a tendency to not sign items in or out while conducting her work. She was not available for comment. But her father in Florida, unaware of the current events at the time, did say that she had complained about workplace bullying. Some investigators have speculated that this incident has come about merely through Dookhan’s attempting to cut corners in the interest of being considered a superior chemist.

Guy Vallaro, director of the State Police crime lab, was not explicit when detailing the nature of the infractions. He would only confirm that there are policies and procedures to be followed while working in the lab and that somewhere along the line, the system broke down. The Massachusetts Department of Health’s commissioner, John Auerbach, has placed the division director who was responsible for the lab’s management on leave until the case has been resolved. And a total of ten staff members have been placed on leave until they can be moved to the Sudbury lab.

The implications of the scenario are obvious and severe. If you or anybody you may know has been affected by this turn of events, please don’t hesitate to contact Altman and Altman for consultation.





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