Home Education Ethics and the Practice of Forensic Science
From 2003 until 2012, Annie Dookhan, a chemist of the Hinton Drug Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, handled drug samples for approximately 37,500 individuals (Meier, 2013). During her tenure at the l aboratory, Ms. Dookhan tampered with drug evidence, cut corners, dry labbed, forged results in favor of the prosecution, fabricated evidence, and perjured credentials.
Dookhan’s motives included ambition for career advancement and outperforming colleagues, attention in the form of popularity with prosecutors, lack of oversight by supervisors, and her extreme desire for recognition and personal prestige. Though her actions began as little white lies, personal and professional factors around 2009 prompted her to become bolder with her lies. The Supreme Court ruling known as Melendez-Diaz (Luis E. Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314, June 25, 2009) would require drug chemists to testify in court regarding their findings. Although this caused a decrease in case output, Dookhan’s was not affected, and in fact increased. Her drive to be the best ultimately caused her to be the best of the worst.
“Annie’s dedication was far greater than her ability____She just wanted to
try.” said Coach Ray Behenna, who coached Dookhan on the Boston Latin Academy girls’ track team.
Given her action and motives, how were red flags not raised? Dookhan arrived at the laboratory early each morning and stayed late into the evening, allowing coworkers to justify her case output, which was double and triple that of other scientists in the laboratory. She worked many hours of overtime but did not charge her agency for reimbursement. As early as 2007, some suspicion was raised as colleagues noticed that she was often away from her bench, not using proper instrumentation, and had forged another scientists’ initials on paperwork, and also the samples that she had tested and identified as cocaine were coming back as heroin upon retesting. She was confronted by a colleague and made necessary changes, yet when she was reported to the laboratory supervisory, he replied that it was the laboratory director’s responsibility to reprimand Dookhan. Concerns were present but not properly investigated by laboratory management. In 2010, the supervisor received too many complaints from analysts in the laboratory that he reviewed Dookhan’s work (without actually retesting the samples) and determined that her work was adequate. She was later caught removing 90 drug samples from evidence without authorization, which began the full investigation. Dookhan confessed to her actions and resigned, and the laboratory was shut down.
Dookhan was convicted of evidence tampering and perjury and sentenced to 3-5 years in jail. Her sentence was a minor consequence compared to the impact the case had on 37,500 defendants, the state of Massachusetts, the legal system, and the forensic science profession. Innocent people were incarcerated, guilty people went free, and thousands of cases were reopened, costing millions of dollars. Criminals were released due to the evidence contamination and falsification. Crime rates in Boston rose. This case opened people’s eyes as to how something like this can occur in a forensic laboratory and the insurmountable effect it can have on society and the professional culture.
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