Tag Archives: David Meier

Justice Decades in the Making

In mid-March, the Massachusetts SJC handed down Commonwealth v. Robert D. Wade, the first case that relied on the 2012 law codified at G.L.c. 278A “An Act providing access to forensic and scientific analysts.”  The court held for the defendant, granting him an evidentiary hearing on the use of post-conviction DNA tests of evidence collected in 1993.  In its decision, the SJC relied extensively on legislative history and legislative intent to interpret C. 278A. 

We are pleased with the SJC’s ruling and proud to have played a role in this process over the course of nearly seven years. Here’s a brief recap:

Our work is having a real impact today.  Hard work of legal experts, persistence and patience with the legislative process really can advance the cause of justice and improve the criminal justice system.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Public Hearing on Forensic Sciences Comes on the Heels of BBA Drug Lab Report

On Monday, the Boston Bar Association released its Drug Lab Task Force Report making three recommendations including a call for enhanced auditing and oversight of our state drug labs.  The next day, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a public hearing and 4 bills dealing directly with forensic sciences were on the agenda. 

All 4 bills would address some of the concerns raised in our Drug Lab Report.  S 1112, filed by Senator Brownsberger, requires all forensic sciences laboratories to be independent; establishes an oversight board; requires that all forensic sciences laboratories be accredited by an accrediting body; and establishes a forensic sciences laboratory ombudsman within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  S 1122, filed by Senator Creem, is modeled off one of the recommendations in the BBA’s Getting it Right Report and establishes a forensic sciences advisory board.   S 1153 filed by Senator Moore, requires forensic service providers to be accredited.  The final bill, S 1175, filed by Senator Tarr, requires more oversight of crime labs and seeks to establish a forensic services drug laboratory oversight board within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. 

A lot of positive actions have been taken in the wake of mishandling of evidence at our state drug labs.  For example, the Courts worked closely with defense attorneys and prosecutors to come up with policies and procedures for dealing with these cases.  In addition, Governor Patrick appointed David Meier to oversee the central office charged with assessing the criminal cases potentially jeopardized by the mishandling of evidence.  Meier then conducted a case by case review of individuals potentially affected.  Ultimately, Control of the state drug labs was moved from the Department of Public Health to the State Police Forensic Services Group. 

We have an opportunity to really get it right within our criminal justice system.  The Executive Branch, the Courts, and all involved have taken steps in the right direction but there’s more to be done.  It’s good to see the Legislature is also thinking of solutions and we hope that these collective actions will help prevent another drug lab incident.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
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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