Mass. review: More cases linked to lab scandal

AP News
Posted: Aug 20, 2013 5:29 PM
Mass. review: More cases linked to lab scandal

BOSTON (AP) — A disgraced former state chemist may have tainted more prosecutions than officials had first estimated, an independent reviewer of narcotics cases said Tuesday.

More than 40,000 defendants may have been affected by the chemist's mishandling of samples, said David Meier, an attorney appointed by the Massachusetts governor last fall to review prosecutions connected to the state lab scandal.

Meier, a former prosecutor who led a file-by-file review of narcotics cases in which Annie Dookhan tested samples, submitted his final report along with a database of defendants who had potentially been affected. The names will not be made public, but will be available to prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges so that "fundamental fairness can be done in the courtrooms," he said.

Authorities had previously estimated publicly that Dookhan had tested samples involving about 34,000 defendants.

They have alleged that Dookhan tampered with evidence and faked results during her nine years at the now-closed Boston lab. Dookhan, 35, of Franklin, has pleaded not guilty to a 27-count indictment related to her alleged wrongdoing in cases stemming from six counties.

Gov. Deval Patrick thanked Meier for his work to try to help resolve the legal morass.

"Now, with this detailed information, the many participants in the criminal justice system can do the work of getting each individual case right," Patrick said in a statement Tuesday.

Administration officials also said Tuesday that the state had spent $7.6 million to date in dealing with the crisis, with another $2.8 million approved for expenditure. The Legislature has authorized up to $30 million to cover costs incurred by the court system, prosecutors, public defenders and other state agencies.

Meier's law firm of Todd & Weld was separately paid $12,500 per month during the review, the governor's office said.

A year ago, Patrick ordered the lab closed after state police took over the facility through a budget directive and uncovered what they called Dookhan's failure to follow testing protocols and her deliberate mishandling of evidence.

The scandal sent a ripple through the state's criminal justice system, exposing thousands of convictions to legal challenges.

A state spokesman said last week that least 337 state prison inmates have been let out of custody as a result of the lab scandal, and the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association said at least 1,115 cases were dismissed or not prosecuted because of Dookhan's involvement or due to problems with producing documents because of the lab closure.

Of the 40,323 individuals identified by Meier's team, about 10,000 were deemed as priority cases because the suspects were incarcerated, awaiting trial in Superior Court or had been convicted based on samples tested by Dookhan, according to the report.

Meier said the vast majority of the remaining 30,000 individuals were non-violent or first-time drug offenders whose cases were heard at the lower district court level.

Defense attorneys and legal rights advocates said those people deserved justice as well.

"We cannot do this on a case by case basis, it's too costly and it makes no sense," said Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who urged the courts to drop charges against or vacate the convictions of all remaining individuals whose cases did not involve violence.

Police arrested Dookhan last September, and a grand jury issued an indictment in December that charged her with crimes including obstruction of justice and perjury.

Her attorney filed a motion last week seeking to have statements she allegedly made to state police thrown out.

Dookhan claims she was in police custody at the time police spoke to her at her home and "was entitled to her Miranda warnings prior to being interrogated."

Authorities have alleged she signed a statement admitting to making negative drug samples into positive ones and "dry labbing," or testing only some drug samples and assuming others were positive.