As if it wasn’t bad enough that Annie Dookhan allegedly faked evidence, the motivations and attitudes underlying her actions are even scarier. The thirty-five year old former state chemist, once described as a “Superwoman” of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, was indicted on 27 charges relating to fabrication of drug evidence. Among other things, the allegations suggest Dookhan, whose job it was to test drug evidence for ongoing criminal cases, would mark “positive” samples she failed to test, and even mix samples to ensure that previously drug-free evidence would subsequently test positive.
Dookhan has allegedly acknowledged taking these steps, in conversations with State Police. She has been charged with six counts of obstruction of justice, to which she plead not guilty.
Recently, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford agreed for the high court to hear two of the over 34,000 cases for which Dookhan tested drugs during her nine year career with the department. How the other tens of thousands of cases will be dealt with, and whether the “global remedy” to address the potential of masses wrongfully convicted will come to fruition, are questions to which defense advocates nationwide eagerly await the answers.
In the meantime, it seems that the “why” is more revealing, and troubling, than the “what”.
In December, the Boston Globe uncovered e-mails between Dookhan and prosecutors who worked on the cases to which she was assigned. The content was shocking. Here was a woman hell-bent on putting suspected criminals behind bars, going so far as enunciating her main goal of “getting [drug dealers] off the streets”. She helped prepare trial strategy, bragged about her importance on the cases, and liberally gave herself false titles when corresponding with new contacts.
The nature of the e-mails also suggested a profound lack of professionalism and a virulent bias that Dookhan did not even attempt to mask. She agreed to do favors for prosecutors, then asked those same prosecutors whether she should even respond to defense attorneys who sent her similar inquiries. Long e-mail trails portrayed a woman who wasn’t just clinging to personal friendships with prosecutors but, in one case, was seeking out romantic ones as well.
Dookhan was entrusted in a position requiring the utmost objectivity and professionalism. Just imagine what your boss would do if you used your title and access to confidential company information as bait to find a romantic partner. It would not be pretty, though, in your case, it probably would not involve the fate of a person’s freedom. Or 34,000 of them.
So while the state crafts a response to the fallout, dealing with how to revisit the tainted cases, exploring the systemic failings in the criminal justice system that allows for such violations to continue, sight unseen, for nearly a decade, it may also be time to examine the social components.
What kinds of relationships do prosecutors really have with purportedly-unbiased experts in law enforcement? Are they drinking buddies? Are there state officials, male and female, who use the opportunity of being “on the inside” to cozy up to higher-ups, for a promotion, or a marriage proposal? Was Annie Dookhan an isolated occurrence of abusing the system, or did she just find herself in an environment where it is all-too-common to trample constitutional rights of the abused because the cultural parameters make it all but certain such abuse does not get reported?
Time was, these were questions relegated to prime-time TV dramas. Yet the unending disaster that is the Annie Dookhan story makes it imperative that we examine all the dimensions that envelop such far-reaching corruption. At the end of the day, those who sit in prison, vigorously awaiting any opportunity to reassess their chances for release, will not be righted by the individual indictment of one wrongdoer.
The good news is, the national media is paying attention to what happens, as are criminal defense attorneys, to whom this revelation just fuels the fire to ensure clients are not incarcerated due to law enforcement corruption.