The recent discovery of at least one chemist’s inaccurate (to be generous) testing of illegal drugs is beginning what could become an avalanche of appeals, motions for new trials and motions to vacate plea bargains. In the meantime, the Jamaica Plain crime lab has been closed.
Unlike the thefts of evidence by Detective Johnson, which came to light months ago, this exposure of the underbelly of the Commonwealth’s law enforcement is being noticed for more than a week. This Attorney Sam’s Take applauds that and wonders…for how long?
It does not only effect pending cases, but has far-reaching effects back to 2003 and closed cases since then. If the evidence held by the Commonwealth was falsified, whether by negligence, recklessness or intentionally, any convictions based upon that evidence is tainted and may well have to be thrown out.
According to the Boston Globe, ex-chemist Annie Dookhan was involved in the testing and prosecution of over 50,000 drug samples. That is said to reflect about 34,000 criminal defendants.
To add a little more flavor to Ms. Dookhan’s failings, she has testified, which sworn testimony was, naturally, sought and presented by the Commonwealth, that she was in charge of “quality control/quality assurance” at the drug lab, which included ensuring that balances were in proper effect, policies and procedures were being abided by, and all machines were working correctly.
Now, how is that for a criminal justice kick in the head?
Attorney Sam’s Take On False Prosecutorial Evidence
There are ways in which we criminal defense attorneys are reacting to this discovery and I plan to be more specific about that later this week. In the meantime, however, I think it is worth noting something that many folks would like to ignore.
The government’s prosecution teams, be they state or federal or be they investigators, prosecutors or chemists, are not infallible. I am not referring to an ability to make simple mistakes. I think we understand that. However, those entities are based upon, and are only as good as, the human beings involved.
And, as I have argued in this daily blog for years now, those human beings have human weaknesses such as sloppiness, ego and greed. Just to name a few.
Many people, including judges, politicians and often juries, give the government the benefit of the doubt…that doubt which often is supposed to belong to the defense. Often, the rules of common sense are cast to the winds when it comes to those who, we assume, are full of integrity, honesty and apple pie.
How much so?
Imagine I told you that I represented a fella who was found to be stealing money from his employer. Basically an embezzlement scheme. He is finally confronted. How many of you would expect that the prosecutors and police would take the position that, if he explained how he did it and assured them how big the problem was, that they would not only not throw him in jail, but they would not even prosecute? I will go you one better…that they would not even fire him, but simply let him pay back the money, collect his pension and retire?
Oh…and in terms of how big the problem was and whether anyone else had been involved? Well, of course, they would simply take his word for it!!
You would probably tell me that either I was dreaming or that, once again, this tricky criminal defense attorney got his client away with virtual murder, right?
Well, that is exactly what the Commonwealth did in the case of Detective Johnson months ago. And, since that time, when defense attorneys have tried to look further into that matter because their client was facing criminal charges in cases in which Detective Johnson worked his magic, any such attempts to use that weakness in government integrity has been fought by the Commonwealth and, at least on one occasion, prevented by the court.
So…now we have ex-chemist Dookhan and her follies. How far will the government and the courts allow us to look into it and perhaps make matters right for a few people who may have lost years of their lives behind bars on the basis of false evidence?
Not to mention the question, in the light of Detective Johnson and Ms. Dookhan, what other problems are existing out there yet to be found?
Well, of course, that is a question that we dare not ask.
The powers-that-be would prefer we close our eyes and pretend that such a possibility does not exist. That way, folks may blindly continue to follow the “good guys”.