Police drug analyst Annie Dookhan recently pled guilty to 27 felony counts and was sentenced to 3-5 years in prison for tampering with evidence in as many as 40,000 cases in Massachusetts.
Ms. Dookhan tampered with evidence, falsified documents, and committed perjury in numerous cases. As an analyst, a huge percentage of her cases were drug possession and drug sales cases. Her job was to test items submitted as suspected drugs by police to determine if they were, in fact, illegal substances and to then testify at trial regarding her results.
To date, 300 people have been released (Link 1). This number could potentially grow exponentially if the results of all of Ms. Dookhan’s tests are thrown out. Indeed, there might be 40,000 tainted tests (Link 2). How could this happen? The lab’s policies are an obvious issue. In addition, many attorneys never hire private drug analysts to challenge questionable or otherwise disputed results when going to trial. Further, many people who are charged with drug possession or other drug crimes take plea agreements and the drugs are never tested by an independent expert or an analyst for the defense.
Undoubtedly Ms. Dookhan was able to carry on her misconduct for so long because of a lack of supervision and because many in the system assume that items submitted by police as illegal drugs are illegal drugs. However, this story underscores the fact that one cannot rely on the State to seek justice in criminal cases. A person who is charged with a crime or may be charged must be wary that the police and prosecutors are likely to presume that that person is guilty. Annie Dookhan is a worst case scenario for police conduct, but the assumption of each defendant’s guilt on the part of police and prosecutors is what allowed her to continue to provide false information that undoubtedly convicted many innocent people.