Tag Archives: Annie Dookhan

Catching Up . . . Have You Heard?

SJC Annual Address

Last Wednesday, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland gave his annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Bench-Bar Symposium at the John Adams Courthouse.  For the first time in a long time, the courts’ future looks bright.  Ireland spoke highly of the new leadership of Chief Justice Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, as well as the Governor and legislators who approved a much needed judicial pay raise, the first in seven years.  The funding the Trial Court received will allow for some additional hiring to replace a handful of laid-off workers and has raised the morale of judges and clerks.  Furthermore, the court has returned to full hours and service in all clerks’ offices for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.  Finally, the court is looking to the future with Ireland’s announcement that the SJC is working on an e-filing program.

Annie Dookhan Court Appearance

Last Friday, Annie Dookhan, the state chemist accused of tampering with and mishandling evidence, made an appearance in Suffolk Superior Court for a conference regarding a possible change of plea.  The night before, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office recommended a five to seven year sentence and five years of probation if Dookhan pleaded guilty.  

In December 2012, a grand jury indicted Dookhan on 17 counts of obstruction of justice, eight counts of tampering with evidence, and single counts of perjury and falsely claiming to hold a degree.  Without the plea, Dookhan could face a massive sentence – each of the 25 counts of obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence carry up to a 10 year state prison term.  The single perjury charge can result in up to 20 years of prison time, and lying about her degree could add another 2½ years.  She has pleaded not guilty and her attorney is asking for a sentence of one year or less.

The BBA’s Drug Lab Working Group met one more time recently and is preparing a report for BBA leadership on its conclusions in the coming months.

SCOTUS Death Penalty Case

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a capital punishment case, Kansas v. Cheever.  The defendant, Scott Cheever, admitted to fatally shooting Sheriff Matt Samuels in 2005.  He argued, however, that due to his methamphetamine usage, he was unable to meet the premeditation requirement needed for a murder conviction.  In a lower court, a psychiatrist testified on behalf of the defense substantiating this claim.  The prosecution countered with testimony from a government psychiatrist who examined Cheever under court orders.  The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the state violated the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting his defense with evidence from the court-ordered mental evaluation.

In oral argument, a majority of the justices appeared to side with the prosecution.

The BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group met for the first time early this week.  They will reexamine the BBA’s positions, investigate the possible use of the death penalty in Massachusetts, and discuss the legal implications of its use in a federal case in the state, such as for the Marathon Bomber.  They will meet monthly through the beginning of 2014 and report to BBA leadership then.

EJC Walk to the Hill

We are pleased to report that the Equal Justice Coalition is hard at work planning this year’s Walk to the Hill event.  The event will take place on January 30, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Massachusetts State House.  On that day, hundreds of lawyers will meet at the statehouse to lobby their own lawmakers to protect state funding for programs providing civil legal aid to low income Massachusetts residents.  Stay tuned for more information about how you can get involved.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Getting it Right: A Bargain at Any Price

A year ago when we first learned that Annie Dookhan, a chemist at one of our state drug labs, was accused of tampering with and mishandling evidence, we knew it would affect our communities, courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and probation offices.  But there was no way we could appreciate the magnitude of its impact on our entire justice system.  When the story broke, we knew it was going to be a huge and daunting problem. 

Dookhan had worked at the Hinton Drug Lab for almost a decade and was associated with a database of 70,000 drug samples.  We knew solving the problem would be an expensive undertaking.  To date, the Office of Administration and Finance estimates the state has spent $7.6 million on this issue.  Finally, we knew it would take an expert to ensure the fair administration of justice.  Fortunately David Meier was appointed by Governor Patrick to make sure that we got it right. 

Working in coordination with District Attorneys, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the private defense bar, the US Attorney’s Office, the Federal Defender’s Office, the courts, and other criminal justice agencies, Meier reviewed and compiled a list of 40,323 individuals who had drug samples tested by Annie Dookhan. 

Meier’s case-by-case review, first by hand and then electronically, emphasized accuracy over expediency.  Criminal justice must be tied to public safety and fundamental fairness.  “Getting it right” within this system requires investigation, resources, oversight, and reform. 

It’s easy to say that one person, Annie Dookhan, is responsible for compromising over 40,000 criminal cases.  In fact, it’s more likely that her actions have revealed a systematic breakdown that let these actions go undetected for so long. 

Meier’s work over the last year will go a long way to returning integrity to a criminal justice system that has been shaken by perhaps the biggest debacle in recent Massachusetts’ history.  However, there’s still work to be done – principally, we need to ensure case reviews for all the individuals affected by this scandal. 

While we know more now than we did a year ago, we still don’t understand why or how this happened.  Meier’s work is done, but the Attorney General’s Office is handling the ongoing prosecution of Annie Dookhan, and the Inspector General’s Office is overseeing an investigation into the practices, procedures, and overall reliability of drug testing at the state lab.  Fixing the laboratory testing system and reviewing all the affected cases may be time consuming and expensive, but ultimately “getting it right” is what’s at stake.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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