Massachusetts crime lab scandal may involve even more wrongdoing & More Latest News

A decade-old scandal at a Massachusetts crime lab — which led authorities to dismiss tens of 1000’s of drug convictions — may involve wrongdoing by more folks than was beforehand recognized, in response to a latest court docket order. 

A state Superior Court choose stated in a ruling associated to the discharge of a trove of state investigative supplies that there’s proof that different workers on the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute — past disgraced former chemist Annie Dookhan — may have engaged in misconduct. At least one individual was referred to the state legal professional common’s workplace in 2015 for potential prosecution, Judge John T. Lu wrote final week. 

The ruling stokes lingering doubts about statements by the state inspector common’s workplace over the previous eight years that Dookhan was the “sole bad actor” on the Hinton lab. And it means the huge scandal might develop. 

“This is a significant development. It justifiably raises questions about the criminal convictions that the lab helped to produce with or without Annie Dookhan’s involvement,” stated Matthew Segal, the authorized director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who has led the combat by protection attorneys to unearth the large misconduct at a pair of government-run Massachusetts labs that prompted the state’s highest court docket to dismiss 61,000 drug expenses. 

Annie Dookhan
Annie Dookhan, heart, is escorted out of her house by authorities in Franklin, Mass., on Sept. 28, 2012.Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP

Dookhan’s misconduct on the Hinton lab was uncovered in 2012, after she had labored there for practically a decade. She admitted to tampering with proof, forging check outcomes and mendacity about it, in response to court docket information. She served three years in jail and was launched in 2016. Most of the folks she helped convict of low-level drug offenses pleaded responsible and completed their sentences lengthy earlier than she was prosecuted, in response to protection attorneys. More than 21,000 instances she labored on have been dismissed.

Lu’s ruling Sept. 16 is related to instances in Middlesex County during which defendants are difficult drug convictions primarily based on proof that protection attorneys say was processed on the Hinton lab — not by Dookhan, however by different chemists, together with Sonja Farak. 

Farak labored on the Hinton lab from 2002 to August 2004 earlier than she moved to a state lab in Amherst, the place she fed a drug habit through the use of samples she was purported to be analyzing in prison instances, in response to court docket information. She pleaded responsible in 2014 to tampering with proof and drug theft expenses and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. More than 16,000 instances she labored on have been dismissed.

Farak has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection along with her work at Hinton.

Farak and Dookhan couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.     

The Middlesex County defendants are difficult their convictions, saying the state did not particularly examine Farak and different chemists whereas they labored at Hinton. 

“We have to get to the bottom of what happened at Hinton,” stated James P. McKenna, who represents two of the Middlesex defendants convicted with proof examined by chemists apart from Dookhan.

Former Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha, who retired this yr, stated in 2019 that his workplace by no means particularly investigated Farak’s work at Hinton. Cunha declined to touch upon pending litigation. 

Dookhan’s and Farak’s misconduct and the fallout have been a persisting embarrassment for the state, and so they have upended its prison justice system. The state public defender’s workplace estimated final yr that as many as 250,000 convictions resulted from lab work on the now-closed Hinton lab when Dookhan, Farak and different chemists labored there. 

Thousands of wrongly convicted folks went to jail or jail or misplaced their jobs, properties and parental rights, in response to protection attorneys. 

In June, the state agreed to pay as a lot as $14 million to settle a class-action lawsuit to reimburse more than 30,000 wrongfully convicted defendants for the fines and costs they paid the state in prosecutions primarily based on problematic crime lab exams. The state has additionally spent more than $30 million for different prices related to investigating and addressing the hurt of the scandal. 

Lu’s ruling final week, which ordered that the defendants be given entry to state paperwork during which the names of individuals talked about within the Hinton investigation will not be redacted, makes it clear that the inspector common’s considerations concerning the Hinton drug lab went past Dookhan. The ruling says that “it has become evident that the OIG made and/or considered several criminal referrals to the Attorney General for other persons at the Hinton Drug Lab.” 

In June 2015, the inspector common’s workplace referred one matter to the legal professional common’s workplace for doable prosecution “based on test results from an independent out-of-state laboratory, which were inconsistent with the Hinton Drug Lab results, suggesting that criminal acts may have been committed by another person at the Hinton Lab,” Lu wrote.

“Also, there were other instances where other persons at the lab knew or should have known that certain substances were not considered controlled substances under Massachusetts law but caused certificates of analysis to be issued stating that the substances were illegal, resulting in defendants being wrongfully convicted,” he wrote.  

Lu didn’t disclose the identities of these folks in his ruling, and quite a few information stay underneath seal. Lu’s order barred all events to the instances from sharing particulars of the newly unredacted state investigation paperwork.  

In 2014, the inspector common stated in a report that Dookhan was the “sole bad actor” on the Hinton crime lab, and the inspector common’s workplace has restated that quite a few occasions since then, even as protection attorneys and judges have raised questions concerning the scope of the inspector common’s $6 million investigation.   

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Maura Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined to remark when she was requested what motion — if any — the legal professional common’s workplace took as soon as it obtained the 2015 referral.   

A spokesman for the inspector common’s workplace declined to remark, citing ongoing litigation. 


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