NEWBURYPORT — In light of last week’s arrest of a former state chemist accused of tampering with drug evidence at a now-shuttered state drug lab, the Essex County District Attorney’s office is looking into the hundreds of cases that may have been affected and whether some convictions may have to be amended.
Anne Dookhan confessed to altering the results of thousands of drug tests by recording “false positives” and in some cases adding drugs to otherwise clean samples over the course of several years. She also admitted to improperly removing drug samples from evidence storage, forging her colleagues’ signatures on log books and intentionally turning negative tests into positive by adding drugs. Investigators are looking into the possibility she compromised as many as 34,000 cases since 2003.
The startling revalation led the state to close of the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain where Dookhan worked and prompted former Department of Public Health Director John Auerbach to resign last month.
Already, several defendants arrested on drug charges have had their sentences suspended, been freed or had their bail reduced by judges as a result of the ongoing investigation and questions about the reliability of the lab’s testing.
In Salem last week, the case against a suspected heroin dealer was dismissed for the second time since March after it became known that his arrest hinged on the work of Dookhan. That is only one of an estimated 8,451 cases in Essex County that may have been tainted by Dookhan’s involvement.
Essex County District Attorney spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan said yesterday District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett is still awaiting information from the state regarding how many cases involving his office may have been affected.
“It’s really difficult for us to know how to proceed until we have that list,” Kimball Monahan said.
Meanwhile, Blodgett’s office has been reviewing its own lists of potentially affected cases and In recent days, the district attorney has been conferencing with superior and district court judges regarding special court sessions to process current and past cases.
“We are working to iron out those details with the court and working with the administration,” Kimball Monahan added.
A key component yet to be ironed out is how to preserve the integrity of convinctions and cases dealing with crimes other than drugs. To do that and to deal with the sudden onslaught of additional work, the DA’s office has asked the state for additional resources, including staff, but so far, it has yet to receive such suport, Kimball Monahan said.
“We’re trying to wrap our hands around the whole situation,” Kimball Monahan said.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.