Welcome to October and, with the new month, we have even more developments in the Commonwealth’s drug lab scandal. Attorney Sam’s Take is happy to tell you that actual law enforcement actions are being taken!

First of all, the former chemist at the center of the controversy, Annie Dookhan (the “Exchemist”) has been arrested on preliminary charges. According to Attorney General Martha Coakley, more charges may well be coming.

Exchemist’s admitted mishandling and falsifying drug samples and testing results prompted the shutdown of the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston last month and resulted in the resignation of three officials, including the state’s public health commissioner.

Oh…and, as discussed all last week, her deeds has also thrown the Massachusetts criminal justice system, at least in terms of drug cases, into crisis.

The extent? So far, the Commonwealth indicates that 34-year-old Exchemist handled more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab.

The lab in which she worked has been closed.

More than a dozen drug defendants are back on the street while defense attorneys challenge the charges based on Exchemist’s alleged misconduct. Authorities say more than 1,100 inmates are currently serving time in cases in which Exchemist was the primary or secondary chemist.

On Friday, Exchemist pleaded not guilty the court set her bail at $10,000. As special bail conditions, she was also ordered to turn over her passport, submit to GPS monitoring, and not have contact with any former or current employees of the lab.

She stands charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and pretending to hold a degree for college or university. As such, she faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.

So far.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced and explained the charges at a press conference on Friday. She said that the two obstruction charges accuse Exchemist of lying about drug samples she analyzed at the lab in March 2011 for a Suffolk County case, and for testifying under oath in August 2010 that she had a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts.

Wait a minute…obstruction for only one month…over a year ago ???

Attorney Sam’s Take On Sacrificial Defendants

Before you assume that the Attorney General has a problem with her memory, be assured that she has also announced that more charges may well be coming as the investigation continues.

And, as you know, to say that the investigation as to Exchemist is continuing is an understatement.

As far as opining about a motive, the AG explained that the only motivation authorities have found so far for Exchemist is that she wanted to be seen as a good worker. However, as the AG noted, her actions turned the system on its head.

Well, that would be understatement creeping in again.

AG Coakley also declared that “People absolutely deserve a system they can trust. … We have to get to the bottom of this, and we will.”

Will we now?

As she deserves, Exchemist has become the central character in this problem. However, before we roast her on the criminal justice stick and leave it at that…perhaps there are a few things to keep in mind.

You know, in the interests of the cause of Justice, having a system we can trust and all that.

Exchemist’s issues with veracity were neither born nor allowed to exist for many years in a vacuum.

Clearly, the Commonwealth was clumsy enough to hire her despite the falsehood in her résumé. Simply, her stated qualifications were either never checked out or, worse yet, shrugged off as insignificant.

Is there any reason to believe that she was the only such employee who was hired so negligently? What other “experts” upon whose “expert opinion” are serving time behind bars…or worse? You know, it was not so long ago that there was a similar debacle with the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office. You know…the good folks who render similar opinions when it comes to homicides.

By the way, that was during the course of Exchemist’s years at the drug lab.

Turning back to the what we do know about the drug lab, people have already jumped the sinking ship at the first sign of this nightmare. Not everyone, though. Not all of Exchemist’s supervisors. Those supervisors have, however, faced harsh criticism for not removing Exchemist from lab duties after suspicions about her were first raised by her co-workers and for not alerting prosecutors and police.

Nevertheless it is worth remembering that one supervisor did an audit of Exchemist’s paperwork but failed to retest any of her samples. Not surprisingly, the audit found nothing wrong.

The same year, a chemist found seven instances where Exchemist incorrectly identified a drug sample as a certain narcotic when it was something else. He told state police he told himself it was an honest mistake. However, in a recent interview with state police, Exchemist is said to have admitted to faking test results for two to three years. Additionally, she admitted to identifying some drug samples as narcotics simply by looking at them instead of testing them, a process known as “dry labbing.” Finally, she also said she forged the initials of colleagues and deliberately turned a negative sample into a positive for narcotics a few times.

All this apparently treated to the same careful scrutiny as was her initial hiring.

Regardless of what happens with Exchemist herself, what good will it be if such, to be generous, negligence with peoples’ lives is allowed to continue?

One more question…why are he simply accepting her word for the extent of her actions? Have we not reason to doubt her credibility at this point?

Careful…that is a trick question. You see, months ago, when a certain detective was found to have been stealing from various cases in the evidence lockers, we simply let him off the hook so long as he would simply tell us the extent to which such thefts took place. He was not arrested. He was not fired. He was not punished because, after all, he gave a full confession that all they had found him doing…was all that there was and nobody else was involved.

And we believe he was telling truth because…well, he said he was.

You know, you might be surprised at how many of my clients say that they are innocent and yet the Commonwealth does not take their word for it.

Is there really someone out there with a working mind who believes that these are the only two folks so engaged upon who’s word we rely to ruin peoples’ lives? Will it really matter if we simply define the problem as beginning and ending with Exchemist?

Of course, in a system which prizes the speedy and smooth running of the wheels of “justice” over quality, truth and integrity, people like Exchemist is perfect. After all, she was the “productive” chemist in the lab, routinely testing more than 500 samples a month, while others tested between 50 and 150.

If you spend time in the courtroom, you will see a similar attitude often in charge of said wheels.

In the meantime, in dealing with this particular scandal, is there something the system can do to address it?

Come back and read me tomorrow.

For the original story upon which this blog is based, please go to http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/09/27/special-courts-hear-cases-drug-lab-scandal/ye4hm5OJQhC8AiyUm62jCP/story.html?camp=newsletter and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444712904578024640566890434.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Contact Information