Via America’s Lawyer: Mike Papantonio is joined by Mollye Barrows, legal journalist for The Trial Lawyer Magazine, about a rogue scientist at a state laboratory who forged evidence in tens of thousands of criminal drug cases.
Transcript of the above video:
It’s one of the most jaw dropping scandals to ever hit America’s legal system. Back in 2012 the state of Massachusetts was forced to close William A Hinton State Lab after a rogue chemist named Annie Dookhan was caught falsifying drug tests and actually tempering with evidence. Now it appears that Dookhan’s action will overturn more than 23,000 convictions of mostly low level drug offenders. Here to talk about that development is Mollye Barrows, legal journalist with The Trial Lawyer Magazine. Mollye, how has one rogue chemist … I mean, this is a crazy story. One rogue chemist able to falsify so many reports for so long without being caught, and more importantly, how weird is that and what was her motivation? What’s your take on this story?
Mollye: I know, it does sound like an episode of Law and Order, doesn’t it? But it actually happened in real life. According to data this is happening more often at labs across a number of states. Critics say the bigger issue is that the entire criminal justice system needs to be reformed because a lot of these drug labs are being seen as an extension of law enforcement, when in reality their role is to be neutral when they test evidence from cases, especially low level drug offender cases like the majority of these cases that were being tested by Annie Dookhan. She apparently worked there for nearly 10 years and got away with it for so long.
Critics say there were red flags but she did get away with it for so long because the entire system again needs to be reformed. She was friendly with prosecutors when she was supposed to be neutral, her coworker said. She was so ambitious that they said her work, the turnout of test that she was turning alone, churning out so many results, that should have been a red flag. When other people were going through the process, that was supposed to be done. On top of that there isn’t a lot of accreditation, including the lab where she was working at, they weren’t properly accredited, which allows for misuse and mishandling of evidence like this, not a lot of checks and balances.
Mike: Let me ask, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on the state of these convictions, when are we going to know how many of these cases are going to have to be retried because of this freakish woman who took it on herself to falsify all of these documents? What’s your take?
Mollye: Yes, it’s interesting because prosecutors wanted to let it stand, let the defendants themselves go back and protest the results. Go back and basically protest what her results were saying. Instead the Massachusetts Supreme Court said, “No way. We’re going to throw them all out. You prosecutors, district attorneys, have to go back to the table, pick out amongst these cases the ones that you think you can successfully retry and it’s up to you to pursue those cases.” Next week they’re supposed to come back with two lists. One that shows the cases that will remain dropped and those that they feel like they can pursue.
Mike: The precedent this case sets for lab … We’ve got about a minute. If this case really does go where we think it’s going to go, and there’s people who are going to be retried, this has just begun. My call on it at this point having seen similar kinds of cases is Dookhan probably was not the only one involved. What kind of precedent that this create?
Mollye: I think you’re going to see more and more of this. She served about two and half years for tempering with evidence, she was released last year. There are eight other similar cases in different states, in fact more cases than that but in eight different states. I think this is going to continue to be … In a short answer, people need to be worried. I think again the bigger issue is, does there need to be a reform in the perception of these labs being an extension of law enforcement? Or should they be held to higher standards? Regulations in place where they should be holding these techs accountable so they can’t get away with things like this.
Mike: Mollye, follow this story, I want an update on it. We’ll talk about it again once you have an update. Thanks for joining me.