Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Boston- Senate Republicans today announced a bill to detect and prevent the mishandling of forensic evidence in the state’s crime laboratory. The bill, written in the wake of more than 21,000 dismissed drug convictions connected to former state chemist Annie Dookhan, will safeguard the accuracy and integrity of lab procedures and results.
“The justice system was compromised because a so-called scientist with falsified credentials lied about her work for years. We all want to make certain that those responsible for maintaining the integrity of criminal evidence have proper oversight,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R– Gloucester). “Accountability and accuracy are essential in every aspect of government and we know that many people were falsely convicted of crimes and others who may have been guilty were let free. We aim to empower state officials with the authority to conduct audits and reviews of the crime lab so that this doesn’t happen again.”
The state’s Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that cases tainted by Dookhan would be dismissed or re-prosecuted. The discredited chemist falsified her academic credentials and admitted in court to intentionally contaminating evidence in an effort to rack up higher lab results, she was convicted of 27 charges in 2013 including for perjury, obstruction of justice, and altering evidence.
The court’s action would require prosecutors to show that they could secure convictions in retrials without using evidence handled or contaminated by Dookhan. The court’s action comes too late for some who were sentenced because they have already served out their prison terms.
“Annie Dookhan’s mishandling of criminal lab evidence was a travesty. Investigations into her actions and her conviction brought to light serious gaps in the management and oversight within the crime lab,” said Senator Ross (R-Wrentham), ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. “A thoroughly conducted triennial review of procedures used in crime labs is necessary to take preventative measures against misconduct and abuse of the justice system.”
A 15-month investigation by Inspector General Glenn Gunha which concluded in a 2014 report found that lax lab management failed to detect the actions of Dookan. The report identified important reforms which have been undertaken such as requiring crime lab facilities to meet national accreditation standards.
“Since the issues of evidence tainting have been identified, the State Police have assumed control of the labs and they have worked effectively to reform the way the labs operate,” said Tarr. “The work of they are doing is commendable, and it needs to be supported with every tool available. Audits have been proven to be effective tools, and we should make sure they are done regularly because the consequences of evidence tainting are just too negative for the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
Sponsors of the bill propose requiring the Executive Office of Public Safety’s Forensic Sciences Advisory Board to initiate a comprehensive audit of all laboratories providing forensic service for the state by September 1st of this year. The state Inspector General, in collaboration with the state Auditor, would be directed to initiate such an audit to ensure the accuracy and integrity of lab work every three years.
The Forensic Sciences Advisory Board is comprised of representatives from the District Attorneys Association, Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Commissioner of Public Health, the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists, members of bar associations, and others with expertise in forensic and biological sciences.
Senators expect the bill to gain bipartisan and bicameral support as it moves through the legislative process.
Posted by Bruce Tarr at 5:00 PM