Some Massachusetts defense attorneys say they’re astonished by the latest evidence from the state drug lab scandal.
State Police investigators reviewing operations at the now-closed Hinton Drug Lab in Jamaica Plain have found photos indicating that the lab was in disarray.
In hundreds of photos from investigators, drug samples are shown stored all over the Hinton lab: in drawers, cabinets, even in manila folders inside file cabinets.
Anne Goldbach is forensic services director for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state agency that handles legal representation for poor people, many of whom have cases connected to the drug lab scandal. In an interview, Goldbach pointed to a photo of an apparent drug sample in a plastic bag taped inside a desk cabinet. Written in marker is the description “found by garbage can.”
“This doesn’t surprise me based on everything else that I’ve read about what was going on at that lab,” she said. “But it certainly is demonstrative evidence that there were very lax standards at the lab.”
The photos are part of the state inspector general’s investigation of the lab after former chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with falsifying drug tests and potentially compromising tens of thousands of criminal cases.
To Goldbach, the photos indicate that the problem is larger than Dookhan.
“Certainly it’s not just a situation of one rogue chemist,” she said. “If anything you had people looking away. You had lack of supervision. You had a lack of standards.”
A spokesperson for the inspector general said the photos are “evidence that we are doing a very meticulous and thorough investigation.”
With that investigation not expected to be finished for months, though, district attorneys say they are preparing now for how to handle the cases where Dookhan tested the evidence.
“We think we’ve been provided enough information to make our own conclusions about the entirety of the situation,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone said. “Not just Annie Dookhan, but what we’re seeing is an indictment of that lab in Jamaica Plain.”
Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey doesn’t go quite that far, but he does say his office is reviewing all cases where Dookhan was involved, and he admits that most of the cases probably will be dismissed.
“They’re very hard to save,” Morrissey said. “We’re looking to see if there are admissions or things that may affect the case but they become increasingly much harder not to dismiss.”
Across the state slightly more than 300 people have been released from custody because their charges were based on drugs tested by Dookhan. Fewer than two dozen of them have been rearrested.
Goldbach, with the state’s public defender agency, believes prosecutors should dismiss every case where Dookhan was involved.
“If they cannot prove these cases beyond a reasonable doubt because they have faulty evidence, then it is their job to dismiss these cases,” she said. “That is what’s just. That is what’s fair.”
But a broad solution on how to deal with Dookhan-related cases is not expected any time soon. The state Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule next month on some questions regarding legal procedure. But SJC Justice Margot Botsford says it’s too early to determine whether there is one standard for all of the estimated 34,000 cases affected by the scandal.