More than 21,000 wrongful drug convictions over a five-year span are on the docket for removal thanks to a chemist at the state’s drug lab.
Annie Dookhan, a chemist for the state, was caught tampering with evidence and falsifying chemical analysis tests.
If the 21,000 drug convictions are overturned, this would be the largest mass dismissal of wrongful convictions. More than seven counties in Massachusetts are issuing requests to drop charges for low-level cases that were tainted by the chemist.
The exact number of cases dismissed will not finalize until the end of the week, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is fighting for their dismissals. Per their tally, the numbers total 21,907.
Chemist Goes Rogue: Taxpayers Take the Heat
People have had their reputations permanently destroyed by wrongful convictions, and no one knows for certain which of the low-level drug cases were guilty or innocent thanks to the rogue chemist.
The drug convictions relied heavily on evidence from Annie Dookhan. During her role as a chemist for the Department of Public Health, she analyzed drug samples from law enforcement agencies ranging from 2003 to 2012.
In 2012, police arrested Dookham for contaminating those samples, falsifying the results, and mishandling evidence in criminal cases.
She admitted to her intentional contamination of samples — in some cases turning negative samples into positive ones. She also confessed to dry labbing, which is a technique where she tested a handful of examples, but reported the same results for all other samples in her queue.
In 2013, Dookhan pled guilty to 27 criminal counts. Counts ranged from perjury to obstruction of justice to evidence tampering. Her sentence consists of a mere three to five years, and she was released in 2016.
The real victims are the taxpayers of these counties. CNN reports the cost of the drug testing analysis for more than 40,000 cases are now in question, and the mass dismissals will account for a considerable amount of tax dollars.
No one knows for certain how many cases Dookhan falsified. However, because of her actions, the prosecutors in those counties had no choice but to release the defendants convicted using her evidence. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated that prosecutors in those counties must show that they have ample evidence to retry those cases without the evidence handled by Dookhan.
Those released will have their records expunged and mostly receive an opportunity to proceed with their life. However, for many of these people, the damage has already been done. With a clear criminal record, those released can seek employment, obtain government funding, and more.
What Was the Rogue Techs Motive?
Per her indictment, Dookham admitted to falsifying lab results to increase her productivity levels at the lab and further her reputation.
While no announcements for lawsuits appear so far, it is likely that some (if not all) of the victims could file a lawsuit for their wrongful convictions soon.
Image Source: Joe Spurr/flickr via Creative Commons