Failure of the criminal justice system starts in the lab - but doesn't end there

The fall out from the Massachusetts crime lab scandal continues. As reported earlier, lab analyst Annie Dookhan is accused of dry labbing at a state crime lab. The investigation has expanded across the state as prosecutors and defense attorneys seek to discover any connection between Annie Dookhan and cases processed through the criminal justice system.

At this moment, what is a finance company than 1,000 people are incarcerated in drug cases where Annie Dookhan was involved in the testing. "Annie Dookhan's alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the entire criminal justice system," said state Attorney General Martha Coakley. In addition to dry labbing, Annie Dookhan has been accused of misrepresenting her credentials. Both on her resume and under oath, Annie Dookhan represented she had a masters degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, according to authorities. It has been widely reported that the University of Massachusetts has no record of either a masters degree or even any classes taken by Annie Dookhan in pursuit of a masters degree.

How does this happen? civil lawsuit steps argument has been advanced that the lack of funding of the crime lab, coupled with pressure from the prosecution to produce results, may have contributed to this situation. Perhaps this is true. But could it have been prevented altogether? Perhaps.

Annie Dookhan was hired by the crime lab in 2003. Her resume indicated she had a masters degree in chemistry. Since that time, she has been involved in 34,000 criminal cases. 34,000 criminal defense attorneys represented those defendants. There were 34,000 opportunities for criminal defense attorneys to pick up the phone and call the University and inquire about Annie Dookhan's credentials.

That didn't happen.

Likewise, prosecutors, as ministers of justice, have an obligation to make sure the expert witnesses they put on the stand are properly vetted.

The failure of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts is one of epic proportions. Those of us who are part of the criminal justice system can civil rights lawsuit from this - or history will repeat itself. Again.

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