Crime Lab Scandal May Be Even Bigger Than Originally Thought
(TheRedWire.com) – In 2012, Massachusetts’ criminal system came under intense scrutiny after a wayward chemist admitted to numerous crimes leading to the largest crime lab scandal in US history. Annie Dookhan worked as a chemist at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston and tested materials connected with low-level drug offenses. Her crimes resulted in tens of thousands of people receiving convictions for crimes they might never have committed.
Now, it appears the problems at the lab were more extensive than many believed. Criminal activities that resulted in unfair court trials may have involved other lab personnel, causing potentially innocent people to receive criminal convictions. The findings came after a state judge ordered the release of investigative materials.
Inspector General Office Missed Vital Information
In 2012, police arrested Dookhan, and the following year a jury convicted her of tampering with evidence, falsifying test results, and lying to investigators. In April 2017, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said her misconduct undermined 15,570 cases. Across seven counties, prosecutors dropped 21,000 low-level drug convictions. Ultimately, prosecutors dropped the vast majority of cases. One said the justice system’s integrity was more important than the convictions.
On Friday, September 16, Judge John T. Lu wrote that evidence indicated the potential involvement in misconduct of more people than previously suspected. Over the last eight years, the state inspector general stated that Dookhan was the only person who acted improperly. Yet, Judge Lu wrote that in 2015, investigators referred at least one individual to prosecutors over similar allegations.
Lu’s opinion stemmed from defendants challenging their drug convictions due to lab work at another lab. The challenge for the court and the justice system is that defense attorneys claim other chemists were also involved in misconduct that led to wrongful convictions.
Could New Suspects Overturn Other Cases?
In September 2019, a court document revealed that former Hinton Lab chemist Sonja Farak used drug samples meant for analysis in criminal cases to satisfy an addiction. It happened after her employment ended at Hinton, and she worked at a state laboratory in Amherst. In 2014 she pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and drug theft. A judge sentenced her to 18 months in jail. Courts dismissed over 16,000 convictions as a result of her actions.
Defense attorneys say the investigator general and prosecutors failed to investigate Farak and other chemists who worked at Hinton. They are challenging drug convictions resulting from lab results produced during the time Dookhan and Farak worked at the facility. One attorney said they had to find out what happened.
After serving their sentences, those convicted of crimes due to others’ criminal misconduct regained their freedom from jail years ago. Now, perhaps the courts will wipe their records clean. Still, they can’t get that part of their life back. In June, the state settled an approximately $14 million lawsuit with 30,000 wrongfully convicted individuals.
Was that everyone? Were more people wrongly convicted by lab suspects who remain unprosecuted?
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