Rogue chemist taints 40,000 criminal cases

A rogue chemist in the Massachusetts crime lab may have tainted as many as 40,000 criminal prosecutions.

Governor Deval Patrick’s administration said today it believes that the criminal cases of 40,323 people may have been tainted by the actions of alleged rogue drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan and the management failures at the now-closed Department of Public Health lab where she worked.

At a State House news conference this afternoon, Boston defense attorney David Meier, who was hired by the administration to determine the scope of the scandal, summarized the research he has overseen since last year when Dookhan’s alleged mishandling of drug evidence was discovered by State Police.

This is the kind of story that has decided me against capital punishment. To be clear, I haven’t any philosophical objection to the death penalty; there are people who need to be dead, and the sooner the better. I just don’t have much faith any more in the ability of the judicial system to reliably identify them and, yes, I’d rather allow the guilty to live than accidentally hang an innocent.

There are ambitious, obsequious, accommodating laboratory technicians; ambitious, willing-to-lie cops; ambitious and willing-to-lie prosecutors. And once in the net, however finely-tuned the scales of justice and the courtroom procedure are alleged to be, the fact is that all of the incentives lean toward putting the accused away.

Nobody acquainted with the work of the Innocence Project could possibly doubt that this country has — many times — executed blameless, innocent men, and the sooner it stops the better.

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