Scandals that are occurring in crime labs are continuing to lead to people being convicted of crimes that they did not commit. Meanwhile, the process for fixing mistakes that have been made has been slow to occur, and little is being done.
In some cases, chemists working in drug analysis labs have falsified drug tests, leading to innocent people being imprisoned. Making matters worse is that officials often have a difficult time identifying the damage that has taken place as a result of these incidents. Sometimes a single corrupt worker can cause thousands of unjust imprisonments.
One severe case involves former Massachusetts drug analysis worker Annie Dookhan, who corrupted thousands of cases during her career. Dookhan has since been sentenced to at least three years in prison for the damage that she caused.
By the end of last year, there have been anywhere between tens of thousands of people saying that they were unfairly convicted because of mistakes made by Dookhan. However, very few of these individuals have filed for post-conviction relief. Many of these people accepted plea deals, and they are fearful that having their cases examined again could result in even less desirable sentences.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts has gotten involved so that no defendants will face increased penalties by calling into question evidence that was produced by Dookhan. In May of this year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that any defendant with guilty pleas in cases involving Dookhan would be able to request new trials without having new charges or increased sentences. However, their current convictions would stand until further notice.
According to Massachusetts state officials, most of the defendants involved in Dookhan cases were likely guilty of something, and they cannot simply overturn the convictions for the thousands of likely criminals. In fact, one person who has been freed because of an overturned conviction relating to Dookhan has already committed a homicide.
Still, many people are falsely imprisoned because of Dookhan, and the majority of these individuals do not have the money to hire lawyers to have their cases examined once again. The state is not doing much to fix this issue.
Making matters worse is that Dookhan is not the only crime lab worker responsible for such outcomes, as other employees have also been found to commit similar instances of fraud. Some drug lab workers have stolen drugs from the evidence room and used the drugs while on the job.
With no easy solution in sight, this is a problem that could potentially drag on for years before something is done about it. Indeed, thousands of innocent prisoners across the country have been unfairly convicted because of corrupt crime lab workers.
Determining the scope of this problem is extremely costly and time-consuming, meaning that very little can be done. For now, putting stronger enforcement policies in drug labs seems like the proper solution. Still, not much can be done about the mess that has already been made, and it’s shamefully unfortunate for those involved.