Massachusetts crime lab scandal could contain much more wrongdoing

A decade-old scandal at a Massachusetts crime lab — which led authorities to dismiss tens of hundreds of drug convictions — could contain wrongdoing by extra individuals than was beforehand recognized, in response to a current courtroom 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 staff on the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute — past disgraced former chemist Annie Dookhan — could have engaged in misconduct. At least one particular person was referred to the state lawyer 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 may 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 legal professionals to unearth the large misconduct at a pair of government-run Massachusetts labs that prompted the state’s highest courtroom to dismiss 61,000 drug costs. 

Annie Dookhan
Annie Dookhan, middle, is escorted out of her dwelling 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 take a look at outcomes and mendacity about it, in response to courtroom information. She served three years in jail and was launched in 2016. Most of the individuals she helped convict of low-level drug offenses pleaded responsible and completed their sentences lengthy earlier than she was prosecuted, in response to protection legal professionals. More than 21,000 circumstances she labored on have been dismissed.

Lu’s ruling Sept. 16 is related to circumstances in Middlesex County through 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 by utilizing samples she was speculated to be analyzing in legal circumstances, in response to courtroom information. She pleaded responsible in 2014 to tampering with proof and drug theft costs and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. More than 16,000 circumstances 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 didn’t 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 aside from Dookhan.

Former Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha, who retired this 12 months, stated in 2019 that his workplace by no means particularly investigated Farak’s work at Hinton. Cunha didn’t instantly reply to an electronic mail requesting remark. 

Dookhan’s and Farak’s misconduct and the fallout have been a persisting embarrassment for the state, and so they have upended its legal justice system. The state public defender’s workplace estimated final 12 months 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 individuals went to jail or jail or misplaced their jobs, properties and parental rights, in response to protection legal professionals. 

In June, the state agreed to pay as a lot as $14 million to settle a class-action lawsuit to reimburse greater than 30,000 wrongfully convicted defendants for the fines and charges they paid the state in prosecutions primarily based on problematic crime lab checks. The state has additionally spent greater 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 through which the names of individuals talked about within the Hinton investigation usually are not redacted, makes it clear that the inspector common’s issues 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 lawyer common’s workplace for attainable 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 individuals in his ruling, and quite a few information stay below seal. Lu’s order barred all events to the circumstances 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, whilst 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 lawyer 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.