More than 20,000 criminal drug cases in Massachusetts are set to be tossed out due to misconduct by a member of a crime lab who admitted to evidence tampering and contamination.
An investigation revealed former Massachusetts chemist Annie Dookhan forged signatures, returned positive test results when she had not tested the samples, and generally mishandled a massive amount of evidence. Her co-workers at the Hinton State Laboratory reportedly called her “Superwoman” because of how fast she processed cases, reports The New York Times.
Dookhan plead guilty to 27 charges in 2013 including perjury and obstruction of justice. The state ordered a review of cases that should be reprosecuted or dismissed in January, which were due to officials Tuesday.
“We’re all overjoyed today at having what is, we think, the largest dismissal of criminal cases as a result of one case in the history of the United States of America,” Carl Williams, an ACLU staff attorney in Massachusetts, told The New York Times. “From the numbers that we’re initially getting, about 95 percent of these tainted drug convictions will be dismissed. And that is a victory for regular people, for people who’ve been tarnished by these drug convictions.”
The court said the final count of cases submitted Tuesday totaled 21, 587, all resulting from the actions of Dookhan. The decision to dismiss cases based off the actions of those handling evidence will set a precedent for a similar case in Massachusetts, according to Mass Live.
Sonja Farak, a crime lab chemist operating in western Massachusetts, allegedly contaminated more than 1,000 drug cases in the state by taking evidence. She admitted to authorities to stealing cocaine she was suppose to be testing as evidence and using drugs while on the job.
While lawyers are happy about the legal victory, they stress Dookhan’s actions have irreversibly damaged thousands of lives. Dookhan was granted parole last year on a three to five year prison sentence.
“In many respects, the damage has been done,” Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of Committee of Public Counsel Services, told The New York Times. “Jobs have been lost, people have been unable to get jobs, housing has been lost, some people have been deported.”
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