In a case that has rocked Massachusetts and has the potential to reverberate nationwide the fallout continues from a crime lab chemist who admitted to falsifying results to help prosecutors get drug convictions. Annie Dookhan was convicted in November of “falsifying test results, mixing drug samples and lying under oath in court about her job credentials”. She has also said she wanted to be seen as a productive employee and to help “get drug dealers off the streets”. Though she was only convicted of 27 counts, an independent review commissioned by Governor Deval Patrick has found that as many as 40,000 cases may have been tainted. While Ms. Dookhan may have been tried and jailed, the real culprits here are the overzealous prosecutors who had potentially improper relationships with Dookhan which they leveraged into high conviction rates.
A quick read of the transcripts shows that Ms. Dookhan was an impressionable woman who craved status, attention and prestige. This does not excuse her actions and she honestly deserve more than the 4 yours to which she was convicted, given the thousands of lives she may have ruined. It does, however, provide context to the rest of the story. The crime lab personal are supposed to be independent and objective, they are not on the prosecutor’s team, they simply test the samples and provide results. Often they are required to testify in court as independent experts about those results.
Dookhan on the other hand, had developed what appear to be personal and intimately familiar relationships with a number of prosecutors. One prosecutor referred to Dookhan as part of her “dream team”. Another prosecutor offered to take Dookhan out to an upscale bar for drinks after a successful conviction. There were other examples but the worst of the lot may be a senior prosecutor named George Papachristos. The relationship between Dookhan and Papachristos was so close that some, including Dookhan’s husband, were concerned they may have been having an affair. This close relationship bled into their professional lives as well. Emails reveal that Papachristos, on at least one occasion, told Dookhan how much he need a sample to weigh and what results he needed to make his case for a drug trafficking conviction against a defendant. Not surprisingly the tests came back with exactly the information the prosecutor needed. Interestingly, it was Papachristos who reported Dookhan to his superiors, as he continued to maintain a close personal relationship with her, after her husband appeared to accuse them of having an affair.
The prosecutors involved in this scandal have largely been cleared of any wrong doing and so get to go on with their lives. Their careers and reputations will remain intact. This to me is a travesty. We have an obviously impressionable woman who was clearly, intentionally or not, manipulated by prosecutors to get favorable evidence. What Dookhan did was obviously wrong, but to send her to jail without a full and thorough investigation of the entire prosecutor’s office is criminal in and of itself. This also raises questions about the integrity of crime labs in general and how far an overzealous prosecutor will go to maintain a high conviction rate.