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Chemist who falsified drug tests in criminal cases goes to jail herself (+video)

Annie Dookhan, who was a state chemist for Massachusetts, pleaded guilty Friday and will serve three to five years in prison. As many as 350 people have already been released from jail as a result of her wrongdoing.

By Staff writer / November 22, 2013


A former state chemist for Massachusetts pleaded guilty Friday to breezing fraudulently through tens of thousands of tests used to prosecute drug-related crimes and then covering up her shortcuts. Annie Dookhan will serve three to five years in prison, and the Massachusetts criminal justice system must now reevaluate thousands of prosecutions that relied on her tests.

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Staff writer

Fabien Tepper writes for the Monitor's science desk and weekly magazine.  She holds a master's degree in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University, and a bachelor's degree in art from Swarthmore College.

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After initially denying the charges, Ms. Dookhan, who was born in Trinidad, raised in Boston, and is now a single mother in her 30s, changed her plea Friday. She pleaded guilty to 27 charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and tampering with evidence.

Dookhan's actions may have distorted the results of the criminal trials of more than 40,000 individuals, and close to 350 people have already been released from prison as a result, Boston public radio station WBUR reports. The Boston-area Department of Public Health laboratory where she had worked for 10 years was closed in August 2012 after the scandal surfaced, and the Associated Press reports that 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted as a result.

Judge Carol S. Ball, who delivered Dookhan's sentence in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, said in her ruling that “the consequences of her behavior, which she ought to have foreseen, have been nothing short of catastrophic." She continued, "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."

As of Friday, the state had spent a total of $8.5 million responding to the drug lab crisis, AP reports, and another $8.6 million was authorized to be spent in the current fiscal year, according to Alex Zaroulis, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

Dookhan was removed from her laboratory duties after she was caught forging a colleague's initials in June 2011, according to The New York Times. But she continued to serve as an expert court witness until she was put on administrative leave in February 2012. In August 2012, she admitted to having mishandled samples, and a subsequent investigation, CNN said, alleged that she had routinely tampered with criminal evidence by altering vials of substances awaiting evaluation for drug content. She altered them, allegedly, to cover up the practice of "dry labbing" samples, which means testing only a fraction of a group of samples before marking them all positive for illegal drugs.

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