Convicted Lab Chemist in Massachusetts & Melendez-Diaz

November 23rd, 2013

Recently, a former crime lab chemist in Massachusetts was sentenced to three-five years in prison for mishandling and altering evidence in hundreds, and maybe even thousands of cases. It is even worse than it sounds.

A former Massachusetts crime lab chemist accused of mishandling evidence affecting hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of criminal cases was sentenced Friday to three to five years in prison after pleading guilty to 27 counts.

Annie Dookhan, 36, was arrested last year, accused of cutting corners by visually identifying alleged drug samples instead of performing chemical tests, and then altering the samples to cover up the practice.

More than 300 drug convictions involving Dookhan’s tests — conducted from 2003 to 2012 — have been put on hold since last year in Suffolk County alone, Suffolk County District Attorney spokesman Jake Wark said.

Dookhan also was accused of falsely claiming, while testifying as an expert witness at a criminal trial, that she had a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts. A defendant’s conviction was overturned because of this, and authorities allege he killed someone in May, after his release.

What an absolute travesty.

Will Baude tweeted if she was ever cross-examined post-Melendez-Diaz. A recent case from D.Ma. discusses the Melendez-Diaz indirectly. In May 24, 2011, Dookhan “certified” the drug samples at issue in this case. Based on this evidence and others, the defendants pleaded out, so there was no opportunity to cross-examine the chemist, as would be required under Melendez-Diaz. This they argue, was constitutionally deficient:

Merritt and Wilkins seek to vacate their guilty pleas on Fifth and Sixth Amendment grounds. Their initial contention rests on the assertion that the pleas were procured in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because of the government’s failure to disclose the full range of Dookhan’s malfeasance. Defendants assert that this information, if provided, would have cast a shadow over the evidentiary value of Dookhan’s certifications of the nature and weight of the drugs that they were accused of possessing. According to defendants, their attorneys’ imperfect knowledge of this potential weakness in the government’s case tainted the advice to plead guilty, thereby depriving defendants of their Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel and rendering their pleas involuntary.
But the court rejects this argument, suggesting that it is unlikely they would have went to trial in any event.
The court does not dismiss the representations of experienced defense counsel who state that they would not have advised their clients to plead guilty (or might have delayed giving such advice) had they known the extent of Dookhan’s misconduct. Relying on its own experience, however, the court does not believe that there is a reasonable probability that either defendant would have forgone a guilty plea (whatever counsel’s advice) and taken his chances before a jury in light of the strength of the government’s evidence. Dookhan’s mishandling of drug tests in other cases did not impugn the factual basis that supported the court’s acceptance of the guilty pleas.
A search for her name in the Massachusetts case database did not bring up anything else about her testifying.