Mass Crime Lab Case
Former Massachusetts State Crime Lab chemist, Annie Dookhan, has been indicted on twenty-seven counts of tampering with evidence, perjury, and obstruction of justice after a legal fallout that has jeopardized thousands of drug cases (Smith). Dookhan admitted to “dry-labbing” (distinguishing a sample is a narcotic based on appearance instead of actually testing), altering test results, and “deliberately turned a negative sample into a positive for narcotics a few times”. Another way in which she tampered with the testing samples was by exaggerating the weight of seized drugs in order to cause the accused party to receive harsher penalties.
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As a result of the chemist’s actions, many innocent people have served jail time, while deserving criminals were let off the hook. Even though her coworkers and supervisors were suspicious on several occasions throughout the course of several years, she was not caught until 2011 when she admitted to forging a colleague’s signature on paperwork. It was not until this action, that she was finally suspended from her duties (The Living Case). The next thought that occurs to someone reading this story is “Why”. What would possess someone to risk his or her job and credentials?
It is hard to understand what exactly would motivate Annie Dookhan to commit this type of crime considering that her life was not directly impacted by the fates of the defendants her samples belonged to. Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory, also known as the two-factor theory, could be applied in this case. Lab executives leadership style Crime labs would be better served if they were operated privately and contracted by states rather than run by a police department. There is cause for concern when a state prosecutor has intrinsic ties to the people testing the evidence he or she needs to convict a felon.
It is an absolute conflict of interest to have a crime lab under the control of the police. Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed said, “There are often implicit pressures [on crime lab technicians] to help out prosecutors – to testify in cases in a way that supports their perceived colleagues in law enforcement” (The Living Case). As a result of the outcome of the Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts case, chemists are now required to be present at the trial of the substance they tested in order to be cross-examined on their testimony (Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts).
Bearing in mind that their testimony carries a lot of weight in a trial, chemists should remain separate so that issues of prejudice or bias arise. Aside from that issue, being run be the state police produces problems in relation to the management of the crime lab reporting any errors in testing that may occur. The leaders may feel that exposing problems would only increase a backlog of paperwork and further testing as a result of an internal investigation. In this case, it does not seem that the leadership was affected by police involvement as the lab was run by the Department of Public Health during the period of the incidents.
* I was unsure how to cite the case given to us as most of my information is derived from there, and I did not see where Kirkman provided source information. * http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-591.pdf