Opinion :: Letters
Dear Governor Patrick:
Wednesday Sep 12, 2012
As you are aware, last week the State’s District Attorneys were informed by representatives of the Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPSS) and investigators from the office of the Attorney General of an ongoing investigation of questionable work activities at the Department of Public Health’s William A. Hinton Laboratory (DPH Laboratory). The information we received at that time raised the prospect of thousands of criminal cases handled by chemist Annie Dookhan having been compromised due to "breaches of protocol." These "breaches" were significant enough that State authorities determined that the lab itself should be shut down and two other individuals associated with the DPH Laboratory have since been suspended. In addition, EOPSS in recent days provided the State’s District Attorneys with a list of over 60,000 drug samples handled by Annie Dookhan since 2003.
The primary concern of the District Attorneys is ensuring that justice is done. If there has been any miscarriage of justice due to the actions of Annie Dookhan or anyone else at the DPH Laboratory, correcting those miscarriages must be the first priority. At this point however, despite the massive list we were given, the District Attorneys have not been provided with any real information to guide us toward our overriding goal of ensuring that justice is done. In fact, due to the bare-bones nature of the enormous list we were given, we still do not know exactly how many actual cases these tens of thousands of samples correlate to or which of these samples connects to cases where someone is presently incarcerated and whose liberty literally hangs in the balance.
The situation is untenable and we respectfully, but urgently, request that the following steps be taken so we can ensure that all relevant facts come to light as quickly as possible so that justice can be served:
First, the District Attorneys require full disclosure of all information relative to the investigation, detailing the full scope of the chemist’s breach of protocol, violations of procedure, allegations of evidence tampering, and any other issues with the DPH Laboratory, including a timeline of events and actions taken by DPH or any other State agencies. Importantly, these investigatory materials should include, but not be limited to, State Police reports of all statements made and signed by Annie Dookhan. Those particular statements must be provided immediately. The District Attorneys need concrete information. We cannot have a repeat of the episode in February 2012 where the Department of Public Health notified the Norfolk District Attorney by letter of a violation of protocol that had occurred in June of 2011. The letter described that breach of protocol as being limited to 90 samples on a single day from a single county. The letter also concluded that the integrity of the tests was not jeopardized as a result of the procedural violation. This information, we now come to know, was false. That the District Attorneys litigated motions to suppress evidence tested at the DPH Laboratory based upon information provided by DPH that is now known to be false was not only a potential violation of the rights of criminal defendants but an affront to the integrity of the State’s prosecutors. The injustices that have occurred cannot be corrected without a complete report detailing the precise nature and extent of the violations of protocol, procedure, and supervision at the DPH Laboratory.
Second, we must prioritize those cases where the defendant is currently incarcerated. As such, EOPSS, and through EOPSS, the Department of Corrections and Department of Probation, must promptly provide us with a list of defendants serving sentences in either the Department of Correction or a county jail, as well as the convictions upon which the sentences were imposed. Further, we need a list of those defendants who are or have served probationary sentences.
Third, the 13,000 samples, potential evidence in presently pending drug cases, that were held at the DPH Laboratory cannot be placed on indefinite hold. We have the utmost confidence in the State Police and believe that these samples should be tested in-house at the State Police Crime Laboratory. To do so requires that the capacity of the State Police Crime Laboratory be commensurately increased immediately. Prior to its shuttering the DPH Laboratory already faced a one year backlog. Clearly, to assign this massive influx of new cases to the State Police Crime Laboratory without new resources would only exacerbate the backlog. The turn-around time on drug evidence would be untenable and would jeopardize our ability to prosecute any drug cases, potentially violate the constitutional rights of defendants to a speedy trial, and even result in a return to judges dismissing cases based upon delays in obtaining lab analysis.
Finally, the very real question of resources extends beyond the State Police Crime Laboratory. While the State’s District Attorneys stand ready to work with EOPSS and other State agencies and investigators to correct any injustices (and in fact, have already undertaken this work in earnest), this work represents thousands, if not tens of thousands of cases suddenly being dropped onto the District Attorneys already enormous caseloads. So too, the State Police, the Trial Court, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services could be facing very sudden, very pressing, and very large demands on their resources. Your assurance that help will be provided to address this issue is of critical importance.
The steps we have outlined above are necessary to address as expeditiously as possible any injustices that have occurred and to assure the ongoing integrity of the criminal justice system. We look forward to hearing back from you on this important matter as soon as possible.
Joseph D. Early,
Jr., President, MDA,
Worcester District Attorney
Vice President, MDAA,
Cape and Islands District Attorney
Secretary Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, EOPSS
Attorney General Martha Coakley
President Therese Murray, Senate
Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, House of Representatives
Honorable Robert A. Mulligan, Chief Justice, Trial Court
Honorable Barbara J. Rouse, Chief Justice, Superior Court
Honorable Lynda M. Connolly, Chief Justice, District Court
Honorable Charles R. Johnson, Chief Justice, Boston Municipal Court
Honorable Michael F. Edgerton, Chief Justice, Juvenile Court
Anthony Benedetti, Chief Counsel, Committee for Public Counsel Services
South End News