Annie Dookhan, former state chemist who mishandled drug evidence, sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison
Annie Dookhan, the former state chemist whose
mishandling of evidence in drug cases threw the state’s criminal justice
system into turmoil, pleaded guilty today in Suffolk Superior Court and
was sentenced to three to five years in prison.
“You plead guilty here because you are
guilty?” Judge Carol S. Ball said as she explained the rights Dookhan
was giving up because of her guilty plea.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Dookhan said meekly.
Dookhan’s falsification of drug tests, in an
attempt to look like a highly productive employee, prompted the release
of hundreds of convicts, raised questions about thousands of cases, and
forced the state to spend millions to address the problems
Ball, who found that Dookhan had entered her
plea “freely, willingly, and voluntarily,” also sentenced Dookhan to two
years of probation.
Dookhan, in handcuffs, spoke briefly with her lawyer before she was escorted out of the courtroom.
During the hearing, she looked straight at a
prosecutor, showing no emotion, as the prosecutor went over the facts of
the case and described the impacts of her actions.
Prosecutors had requested a five-to-seven-year
sentence for Dookhan. Her defense attorney had argued for a maximum
sentence of one year.
Sentencing guidelines called for a maximum
sentence of three years for Dookhan, but Ball said in a ruling last
month she wanted to impose a tougher sentence “given the magnitude of
the harm she has done, considerations of general deterrence and,
The judge said in the ruling that “the
consequences of her behavior, which she ought to have foreseen, have
been nothing short of catastrophic: Innocent persons were incarcerated,
guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public,
millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with
the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice
system has been shaken to the core.”
According to the Patrick administration,
government agencies dealing with the fallout from the drug scandal have
spent $8.5 million this year. The Legislature has set aside an
additional $8.6 million for Dookhan-related expenses.
Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of the state
public defender agency, said that the issue of the drug lab scandal is
an ongoing concern that cannot be ignored.
“Sadly, the saga continues for the thousands
of individuals who have borne the impact of Dookhan’s misdeeds, and the
lab’s scandalous management,’’ said Benedetti, who heads the Committee
for Public Counsel Services.
He added, “The longer this continues, the more
damage is done to our justice system’s credibility. The science and
evidence relied upon in criminal cases must be unimpeachable.’’
Benedetti and Martin W. Healy, general counsel
for the Massachusetts Bar Association, both said they were anxious to
see what conclusions Inspector General Glenn Cunha, who is conducting a
far-reaching investigation into the drug lab, reaches about the
integrity of the system.
“This is one chapter in a continuing saga,’’
Healy said of Dookhan’s plea and prison sentence. “The legal community
and the general public still have a number of unanswered questions about
what’s gone on here. How deep was the problem? Is it really just
isolated to Dookhan or does it go beyond that?’’
Dookhan pleaded guilty to 27 charges,
including evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. She worked at a
now-closed Department of Public Health lab in Jamaica Plain.
A scientific determination that a substance
seized by police is an illegal drug is a cornerstone of a drug case in
court. A defendant cannot be convicted for possession or distribution
of, for example, a harmless white powder.
State officials have said Dookhan’s actions may have tainted more than 40,000 cases.
According to the state court officials, 950
people have been given a total of 2,922 special Superior Court hearings
in eight counties – from Worcester east — since the fall of 2012 when
the scale of the Dookhan scandal began to be recognized by prosecutors,
defense attorneys, and defendants.
Since last year, the state Department of
Correction has released more than 300 people convicted in drug cases
where Dookhan played a role. That number does not include anyone
released by a county house of correction, the Globe reported last month.
Court records showed that more than 600 people
have had convictions against them erased or temporarily set aside or
have been released on bail pending new trials because of Dookhan’s
involvement in their cases, the Globe also reported.
One defendant who was freed, Donta Hood of Brockton, is accused of shooting and killing a man in May.
Edited by tatee - Nov 29 2013 at 6:40pm