Justice Denied Editorial
Annie Dookhan’s saga of sabotaging more than twenty-one thousand criminal cases in Massachusetts during the eight years she “worked” as a chemist in the Hinton State Laboratory is chronicled in Justice Denied’s article, “21,587 People Exonerated In Massachusetts Due To Fraudulent Crime Lab Testing” (May 6, 2017).
From her hiring in 2003 to her suspension in June 2011, Dookhan provided critical prosecution evidence by falsely certifying a suspected substance was an illegal drug. She was praised for her productivity and assistance to prosecutors during the years she was fabricating evidence by taking short-cuts and faking tests.
21,587 convictions in seven Massachusetts counties that depended on Dookhan’s “drug certification” were vacated and the charges dismissed, on April 19, 2017 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Justice Denied’s article is the only known reporting about the Dookhan saga that makes the obvious observation she did not act alone: she was a cog in the law enforcement machine who was directly and indirectly assisted in her nefarious and illegal activities by hundreds, and possibly more than a thousand people. The success of her almost decade long subterfuge required willful blindness by a very large number of people intimately involved in Massachusetts’ legal system: judges; prosecutors; defense lawyers; lab supervisors and technicians; and others.
It was only someone outside the legal system — her husband — who tried to alert authorities about Dookhan’s dishonesty. However, his whistleblower warnings to the Norfolk County DA were ignored.
Given how deeply imbedded she was in the legal system, it isn’t surprising that Dookhan’s criminal career was only accidentally derailed: A lone person in the Hinton lab inadvertently noticed her slip-up of failing to provide initials in the evidence log book when she took out evidence without authorization in June 2011. If not for Dookhan’s careless oversight, it is possible that to this day no one would be the wiser that she was engaging in her dirty work of framing ungodly numbers of innocent people.
Dookhan was the front person … the “fall guy” for the consequences of what occurred during the eight years that scads of professional people believed on blind faith that she was a miracle worker at performing scientific tests for the Hinton Lab. She couldn’t have done what she did without:
- The active assistance of her lab superiors and co-workers who didn’t seriously question how she was able to perform tests at a superhuman rate;
- The support of prosecutors delighted that she reliably provided the evidence they needed to convict defendants;
- The lack of curiosity by a single judge about how a lone lab technician could provide evidence to convict an average of 11 people every court day for year after year after year; and,
- The failure of a lawyer for a single one of the 21,587 exonerated defendants to question Dookhan’s qualifications — not even enough curiosity to do something as simple as checking her educational background and professional training to qualify as the expert who provided the evidence upon which their client’s conviction was based. If only one defendant’s lawyer had been competent enough to check Dookhan’s background shortly after she was hired in 2003, her dishonesty would have been exposed and she would have been unceremoniously fired by the Hinton lab before she had the opportunity to reek havoc on the life of tens of thousands of people.
Dookhan was only able to do what she did because people in the Hinton lab, the seven prosecutors offices, the judges in the seven counties, and the public defenders and retained lawyers for the defendants, cooperated with her scam by effectively looking the other way in their assumption she was a super woman chemist — and not a fraud.
Annie Dookhan took full advantage of the legal system’s bureaucratic structure. The type of disinterested uncurious drones involved in the legal system’s bureaucracy remains unchanged by the Dookhan scandal. It was an embarrassing episode that was a speed bump in business as usual.
The most important takeaway from Dookhan’s eight-year rampage is there is very little to prevent innocent people from being preyed on by an unscrupulous person in a position of authority in any layer of the legal system.