Absent significant additional reforms, Massachusetts will face another drug lab scandal of the proportions experienced when the criminal misconduct of state chemist Annie Dookhan came to light in July of 2012. So concludes the Boston Bar Association in the newly released report
of its Task Force on the Drug Lab Crisis.
"The integrity of forensic evidence is vital to the fair administration of justice," said Boston Bar Association President Paul T. Dacier. "Without constant vigilance and frequent, independent auditing, Massachusetts runs the risk of undermining public trust and confidence in the credibility of our criminal justice system."
The BBA Task Force, chaired by former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Michael Ricciuti, makes three key recommendations:
- First, that prosecutors, defense counsel, judges and policy makers continue the extraordinary joint efforts that were mounted in the aftermath of the Dookhan misconduct to promptly resolve open criminal cases related to Dookhan's misconduct;
- Second, that the Commonwealth further enhance the auditing and oversight of drug labs and consider similar steps regarding all forensic services; and
- Third, that the Governor and Legislature review funding levels for forensic services to ensure these services are adequately funded and staffed and that effective auditing and oversight is maintained.
The BBA Task Force began its work in the fall of 2012, following allegations that Department of Public Health lab chemist Annie Dookhan had engaged in criminal misconduct regarding drug evidence seized in connection with thousands of Massachusetts state and federal criminal cases. The Task Force reviewed the facts regarding this matter, dubbed the Lab Crisis, to identify any lessons to be learned, and propose recommendations for change.
The BBA Task Force began its work at the time Governor Patrick appointed attorney David Meier to investigate and identify individuals potentially affected by Dookhan's misconduct, and issued its own report at the time the state Inspector General released its report regarding the crisis.
"As laudable as many of the steps taken to improve forensic services over the past several years have been, they have not fully addressed the larger issues we have identified," said Ricciuti. "In addition to Ms. Dookhan, two other lab chemists were also charged with wrongdoing. These allegations undermine the integrity of evidence used in criminal cases. We must ensure the enactment of the steps we recommend to ensure only truthful, valid information is used as evidence in criminal prosecutions in Massachusetts -- a goal the BBA has long championed and which was the subject of the report of the BBA Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, 'Getting it Right,'
issued in 2009."
The Boston Bar Association is a non-profit, voluntary membership organization of 10,000 attorneys drawn from private practice, corporations, government agencies, legal aid organizations, the courts, and law schools. It traces its origins to meetings convened by John Adams, the lawyer who provided pro bono representation to the British soldiers prosecuted for the Boston Massacre and went on to become the second president of the United States.