Mili Note: Of course, they’re putting the chief prosecutor, the DA, in charge of deciding who this affects and who it doesn’t. No conflict of interest there..
A scandal in a Massachusetts crime lab continues to reverberate throughout the state’s legal system. Several months ago, Annie Dookhan, a former chemist in a state crime lab, told police that she messed up big time. Dookhan now stands accused of falsifying test results in as many as 34,000 cases.
As a result, lawyers, prosecutors and judges used to operating in a world of “beyond a reasonable doubt” now have nothing but doubt.
Already, hundreds of convicts and defendants have been released because of the scandal. Now, the state’s highest court may weigh in on how these cases should be handled.
“I don’t think anyone ever perceived that one person was capable of causing this much chaos,” says Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey, one of many DAs now digging through old drug cases, trying to sort out how many should now be considered tainted.
“You can see the entire walls full of boxes,” Morrissey says, gesturing at dusty files piled six feet high in a conference room near his office. “In one of these cardboard boxes, there could be hundreds of cases … in each box.”
The cases represent nearly a decade’s worth of work that could take years and tens of millions of dollars to review.
For Prosecutors, ‘Unsettling And Maddening’
In Massachusetts, special courts have already heard hundreds of cases of convicts and defendants arguing they were denied due process. Their evidence, they argue, was handled — or mishandled — by Annie Dookhan.
In a recent hearing, public defender Julieann Hernon argued for the release of a man charged with selling cocaine and heroin in a school zone to an undercover officer. Hernon recited a list of alleged misconduct by Dookhan.
“It was, we now know, mis-testing evidence, dry-labbing evidence, saying she had conducted tests when she had not, deliberately tainting drugs,” she said.
Hernon’s client had pleaded guilty, but now, Hernon said, he should be allowed to take it back.