Because sometimes chemists lie – the latest scandal from Massachusetts

There has been quite a bit of litigation in the past few years on the subject of what witnesses must be produced by the government to prove the results obtained for scientific testing for drugs and/or alcohol. The Supreme Court has taken a case a year on this question, starting with Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009)(no chemist), Briscoe v. Virginia, 130 S. Ct. 1316, 175 L. Ed. 2d 966 (2010)(who must subpoena the witness), Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S. Ct. 2705, 180 L. Ed. 2d 610 (2011)(substitute chemist), and Williams v. Illinois, 132 S. Ct. 2221 (2012)(underlying opinion in DNA match). The government usually claims that it is unnecessary to bring these chemists to court because what they are doing is very routine, in the regular course of business, that the results are not really used for their truth (huh?), and that it would be too burdensome to bring these witnesses to court. But as is reported in the following disturbing article, sometimes chemists lie, and lie a lot.

The story, which is reported in the Boston Globe on September 30, 2012, is titled “How chemist in drug lab scandal circumvented safeguards.” According to the article, state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan has been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, for falsifying drug test results and for falsifying her academic record. Dookhan is accused of skipping necessary tests (dry-labbing) altering records, contaminating samples, and signing other chemist’s names, placing in jeopardy between 34,000 and 60,000 convictions.

This sad story simply illustrates what we all already know, witnesses are human, and sometimes humans lie. While confronting the lying witness in court may not always or even frequently uncover the lie, to allow a witness who supplies testimony that is critical for a conviction to avoid appearing in court is unfathomable and cannot be justified by simple cost benefit analyses.

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Leonard R. Stamm
Goldstein & Stamm, P.A.
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Author: West’s Maryland DUI Law

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