Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Senate GOP Caucus Calls for State Drug Lab Oversight Board

     This week the Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus will be filing legislation calling for the creation of a forensic services drug laboratory oversight board within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security to help prevent a recurrence of the problems that were exposed at the state drug lab following the criminal investigation of rogue chemist Annie Dookhan.

     Dookhan is currently facing 27 counts of tampering with drug evidence while working at the state lab in Jamaica Plain between 2003 and 2012, compromising thousands of cases and resulting in a number of convictions being overturned. Dookhan has pled not guilty to the charges.

     Dookhan’s actions have exposed a systemic failure in the operation of the state drug lab which demands that we take immediate action to ensure that both public safety and the prosecution of drug-related crimes are not compromised.

     The proposed five-member board – which will have oversight authority over all state facilities engaged in forensic services in criminal investigations – will consist of the secretary of public safety and security, the attorney general, the inspector general, the colonel of state police, or their designees, along with one appointee from the Governor. The undersecretary of public safety for forensic sciences will advise and report to the board on the administration and delivery of forensic services at such facilities.

     We need to create a new infrastructure of oversight, accountability, transparency and integrity, and this legislation will accomplish these goals.

     The Caucus proposal requires that each forensic services facility be fully and actively accredited with the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board and compliant with standards promulgated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The bill requires:

• Quarterly reports from the undersecretary of public safety for forensic sciences that will include, but not be limited to, information regarding:

     - The volume of forensic services at each facility;
     - The volume of forensic services of each employee at such facilities;
     - The costs and length of time from submission for testing or procedures and the return of results from such facilities;
     - Compliance with accreditation standards of such facilities; and
     - Facility employee records, qualifications, and incident reports.

• A minimum of one public oversight hearing per year for the board to receive testimony relative to the operations of state laboratories;

• A system to receive complaints or tips about potential problems at a state laboratory via telephone and e-mail;

• Certification that all state laboratories are accredited in accordance with the other requirements of the bill; and

• The timely reporting of suspected or potential criminal wrongdoing to the Attorney General for investigation and prosecution.