The court system in Massachusetts is working overtime today. They have dismissed almost 24,000 drug convictions in the state because a chemist tampered with evidence and falsified her reports. Annie Dookhan, a chemist who worked for the state, has pleaded guilty to her tampering and falsifications and all of her work for the state has been thrown out.
Dookhan was responsible testing drug samples provided by law enforcement from 2003 until 2012. She had a long track record of deceit and lies, all of which culminated with her arrest in 2012.
“That is a victory for regular people, for people who’ve been tarnished by these drug convictions,” Carl Williams, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the cases being dismissed.
Dookhan worked testing drug samples submitted by law enforcement agencies from 2003 until 2012. Massachusetts’ dismissals today mark the largest group dismissal in the history of the United States.
At her trial in 2013, Dookhan admitted she only tested a small fraction of larger batches, then listed all of them as positive. Prosecutors claimed she was more concerned with her productivity and reputation than the results of the testing or the fate of those accused.
“Today is a major victory for justice and fairness, and for thousands of people in the Commonwealth who were unfairly convicted of drug offenses,” Matthew Segal, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, wrote in a statement.
The conviction meant the evidence in all of these cases had to be thrown out. If suspects had plead guilty, they would be allowed to reverse those pleas. The state could retry some of them, the ones for whom they still had actual testable evidence, but they couldn’t use any of the results or actual samples handled by Dookhan.
The state estimates the cost of this case, to date, to be $47 million. That number is expected to grow substantially.
Dookhan’s deceit was multifaceted. Those who know her say these habits began when Dookhan was in college. She is believed to have honed her deceptive lab practices there. After, she lied about having her academic rank. She claimed to have earned a masters in chemistry, and even a Ph.D. from Harvard, neither of which is true.
During her time with the state lab, Dookhan’s colleagues made numerous complaints about her productivity and work habits. Her supervisors, though, were impressed by her productivity and overlooked the complaints.
Even during her trial, Dookhan continued her manipulations. She developed a relationship with George Papachristos, one of her prosecutes. “I need someone to love me and make me laugh,” she told Papachristos. “My work ethic is very different from my co-workers, I give 110 % in everything I do . . . I work hard,” she said.
She even claimed she was getting a divorce. Her husband texted the prosecutor, “This is Annie’s husband do not believe her, she’s a liar, she’s always lying. She is looking for sympathy and attention.”
Papachristos says that there were no ethical violations in his relationship with Dookhan, yet he resigned from his post as district attorney.
On September 28 of 2012, Dookhan was arrested and charged with eight counts of tampering with evidence, 17 counts of obstruction of justice, and one count of perjury and falsification of records.
The great irony is that she is already out on parole.