"Reformers have for years recommended that all forensic labs be independent from law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies' and this is a key reform promoted by The Justice Project (2008). But fixing these problems is only half the answer' because half of the wrongful convictions attributed to misleading forensic evidence involved deliberate forensic fraud' evidence tampering' and/or perjury.
From "The Elephant in the Crime Lab," by co-authored by Sheila Berry and Larry Ytuarte; Forensic Examiner; Spring, 2009;
STORY: "Thousands of Potentially Wrongful Convictions; Years of Delayed Action," by reporter Patrick G. Lee, published by Propublica on November 10, 2016.
SUB-HEADING: Four years after a Massachusetts crime lab chemist confessed to tainting evidence, more than 20,000 defendants still don’t know if their drug convictions will stand."
PHOTO CAPTION: "Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick speaks to the press at the inspector general’s office in Boston in 2014, after the inspector general reported his findings in the investigation of the Hinton drug lab."
GIST: "In August 2012, Annie Dookhan, a veteran chemist with a Massachusetts state drug lab, admitted to contaminating samples and faking test results during her 8 1/2-year career. More than 20,000 drug convictions, as a result, could have been flawed. Those cases involved defendants from eight different counties, and in many instances people had been sent to jail and some even deported.
The state’s prosecutors quickly assured then Gov. Deval Patrick that fixing any miscarriages of justice “must be the first priority.” What has followed, however, has been more than four years of legal combat. Prosecutors have sought at almost every turn to preserve as many convictions as possible, while lawyers for the potentially innocent defendants have urged the state’s courts to vacate every conviction that relied on Dookhan’s tainted work.
- Prosecutors fought efforts to allow those jailed or imprisoned based on potentially suspect evidence freed pending a review of their cases.
- Prosecutors at one point argued they actually had no obligation to inform those convicted of their possible innocence. Not surprisingly, it took four years for prosecutors to even attempt to systematically notify the thousands of defendants that their convictions might have been won unfairly. And when prosecutors at last mailed a formal notice, it lacked essential information about developments in the case, was poorly translated into Spanish and did not clearly say who had sent it, according to lawyers for the defendants. Around 6,000 of the notifications were returned as undeliverable.
- One prosecutor suggested that many of the defendants might be too poor or caught up with mental illness and addiction to care about contesting convictions on their records. For those who did want to challenge their convictions, prosecutors argued they ought to be required to come forward individually and affirmatively establish that Dookhan had mishandled evidence in their specific case.
Defense lawyers are not persuaded. “If you think that the person is guilty, then your obligation is to go out and get a clean conviction, not to protect the dirty conviction, the tainted conviction,” said Matthew Segal, the legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts who has been helping represent Dookhan defendants since 2013. Over the years, crime labs have been a regular source of scandal — in Houston and St. Paul, Oklahoma City and San Francisco, among other places in the U.S. Indeed, the Dookhan fiasco is only one of two scandals to have recently upended the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. In 2013, another state chemist was found to have tampered with evidence, and a 2016 report from the state attorney general found that she had tested drug samples while intoxicated herself over a period of about eight years. Prosecutors have not yet produced a definitive list of defendants affected by this latest embarrassment. ProPublica’s reporting on the widespread use of what are known as chemical field tests in making drug arrests has also highlighted shortcomings in the performance of crime labs. The tests — inexpensive chemical pouches used by street cops to indicate the possible presence of illegal drugs — gained popularity as crime labs became increasingly overworked and under-financed. The tests, known to be unreliable, nonetheless have often become the lone alleged evidence used to gain thousands of guilty pleas across the country. In Las Vegas, the police department’s crime lab spent years detailing the risks associated with field tests, but nonetheless still supports their use in criminal prosecutions. In Houston, where hundreds of people were wrongly convicted in recent years based on flawed field testing, delays in the local crime lab meant it took months, even years, for confirmatory tests to ultimately prove people’s innocence. Today, two years after the wrongful convictions were identified, prosecutors have yet to successfully track down all of those affected. At any given time, Massachusetts makes use of a number of crime labs, many of which are overseen by the state police. They collectively provide analysis of everything from fingerprints and DNA to drugs, explosive residue and firearms.
Dookhan’s work at one of the labs — a part of the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain — had drawn some concern as early as 2009, according to a subsequent investigation of her career. But she had already left the lab when, in 2012, the state attorney general’s office opened a formal inquiry into Dookhan’s past performance. On Aug. 28, 2012, during an interview with investigators, Dookhan acknowledged that she had manipulated samples to turn negatives into positives and also made up results for samples that she had not actually tested. Two days after Dookhan spoke with police, the governor closed down the drug lab. Soon after, the head of the Department of Public Health and two other officials left their posts. The governor also created a task force to identify all the samples that Dookhan might have tested during her almost-nine years at the lab, and the criminal defendants associated with them.........Public defenders, given a potential population of thousands of clients, have argued that the only reasonable way to proceed would be to wipe away the Dookhan convictions en masse. The state public defender agency does not have access to enough lawyers to represent all those defendants in a timely manner, said Nancy Caplan, the attorney in charge of the agency’s Dookhan response. Prosecutors have countered by saying it’s unlikely an overwhelming number of people would flood the system seeking redress. Many of them, after all, were actually guilty, and had likely moved on from their punishment, one prosecutor claimed in an August filing. Others were likely dealing with issues of poverty, mental health or addiction, and were too consumed with getting on with their lives to want to contest their convictions, according to the prosecutor. As a result, sticking with a case-by-case approach makes sense, district attorneys have argued. “That’s a pretty clear strategy for avoiding the flood by requiring poor, uncounseled defendants to jump thru hoops. And it is absolutely not anything that could resemble justice,” Segal said in reply. In September, prosecutors mailed out about 21,880 notice letters to Dookhan defendants. At least 5,767 letters came back as undeliverable, and they were unable to find defendants’ addresses for an additional 1,006 cases. As of October, about 200 defendants had filed motions or received relief after responding to the mailed notices. The limited response, defense lawyers said, was not hard to explain. The notices, they said, were missing important details about past and ongoing litigation that could influence decisions on whether or not to pursue a challenge. And the accompanying Spanish translation was hardly adequate, they said. Prosecutors have maintained that most Dookhan defendants are not interested in opening “a closed chapter in their The state’s highest court will hear oral arguments on the fates of those thousands on Nov. 16. A formal written decision, though, could take months."
The entire story can be found at:
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/