More than 40K cases possibly tainted in drug lab scandal
BOSTON (AP) - A disgraced former state chemist may have tainted more prosecutions than officials had first estimated, an independent reviewer of narcotics cases said Tuesday.
More than 40,000 defendants may have been affected by the chemist's mishandling of samples, said David Meier, an attorney appointed by the Massachusetts governor to review prosecutions connected to the state lab scandal.
Meier, who led a file-by-file review of narcotics cases in which Annie Dookhan tested samples, said he'll meet with prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges to discuss how to best use the findings.
Authorities had previously estimated publicly that Dookhan had tested samples involving about 34,000 defendants.
They have alleged that Dookhan tampered with evidence and faked results during her nine years at the now-closed Boston lab. The 35-year-old Franklin resident has pleaded not guilty to a 27-count indictment related to her alleged wrongdoing in cases stemming from six counties.
Gov. Deval Patrick thanked Meier for his work to try to help resolve the legal morass.
"Now, with this detailed information, the many participants in the criminal justice system can do the work of getting each individual case right," Patrick said in a statement Tuesday.
Officials also said Tuesday that the state had spent $7.6 million to date in dealing with the crisis. The Legislature has authorized up to $30 million to cover costs incurred by the court system, prosecutors, public defenders and other state agencies.
A year ago, Patrick ordered the lab closed after state police took over the facility through a budget directive and uncovered what they called Dookhan's failure to follow testing protocols and her deliberate mishandling of evidence.
The scandal sent a ripple through the state's criminal justice system, exposing thousands of convictions to legal challenges.
Meier, who previously served as a prosecutor in Middlesex and Suffolk counties and is a partner at Boston law firm Todd & Weld, started his review by generating a list of 690 people in state prisons and 450 in county jails who were serving sentences based at least partly on Dookhan-related drug tests.
But the list didn't include thousands of people who were awaiting trial, were on probation or were serving federal sentences in cases that Dookhan tested samples.
Police arrested Dookhan last September, and a grand jury issued an indictment in December that charged her with crimes including obstruction of justice and perjury.
Her attorney filed a motion last week seeking to have statements she allegedly made to state police thrown out.
Dookhan said police didn't give her a Miranda warning while doing an interview at her home in which authorities have alleged that she admitted to wrongdoing that included making negative drug samples into positive ones and "dry labbing," or testing only some drug samples and assuming the rest were positive.
A state spokesman said last week that least 337 state prison inmates have been let out of custody as a result of the lab scandal, and the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association said at least 1,115 cases were dismissed or not prosecuted because of Dookhan's involvement or due to problems with producing documents because of the lab closure.
Court officials also set up drug lab court sessions that special magistrates have been presiding over to handle motions brought by defendants claiming to be wrongly incarcerated due to Dookhan's alleged misconduct.