Annie Dookhan, a chemist for the Massachusetts police, was sentenced to three to five years in prison after committing a fraud so extensive that her crimes call into question the validity of over 40,000 convictions.
Dookhan worked in a laboratory examining evidence in drug cases. She wa a go-to analyst for law enforcement and prosecutors, thanks to her rapid turnaround time and penchant for delivering much-needed drug evidence to score convictions.
Her record, however, was based on countless criminal fabrications. She falsified numerous reports, cut corners, forged signatures, inflated her credentials, lied about whether she was actually testing the lab samples she received and even tampered with evidence, according to NPR.
She just wanted to be good at her job, she said.
After pleading guilty to 27 counts of evidence tampering and falsifying reports, Dookhan was recently sentenced to three to five years in prison. Her lawyer had asked for a lesser sentence, given that Dookhan is the primary caretaker for her seven-year-old son, who is disabled.
The sentence, while not insignificant, seemed too forgiving to some commentators, who noted that Dookhan’s criminal practices helped the government convict and sentence potentially innocent men and women to hundreds of years in prison.
“The one thing we cannot have in our ridiculous ongoing modern prohibitionist state is a criminal justice system that punishes the criminals in law enforcement as harshly as it punishes those at whom the laws are aimed, and on whom the law principally falls,” wrote Charles Pierce, a writer for Esquire.
Massachusetts state Rep. Bradley Jones Jr., a Republican, agreed that the sentence was too light.
“You walk away feeling this is really inadequate to what has happened, and the ramifications that it has had, and is going to have, on the criminal justice system,” said Jones in a statement to The Boston Globe. “Three to five years is not adequate.”
The revelation of Dookhan’s crimes has also sparked a wave of convicted drug criminals asking to be released, or receive new trials. The state has already spent $8 million trying to accommodate their needs, and released some 600 wrongfully convicted prisoners.
Of course, state residents are worried that some of the releases will also be wrongful. Donta Hood, who was initially set free because of Dookhan’s crimes, has now been re-arrested on first-degree murder charges.
Justice Carol Ball, who sentenced Dookhan, described her as “a tragic, broken person who has been undone by her own ambition.”
“Innocent persons were incarcerated,” said Ball. “Guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core.”