When we hear of an accused individual's blood test results in a DUI or drug offense, the tendency is to automatically believe it is accurate. While a thorough explanation of the inherent inaccuracies of both blood and breath testing is warranted, I will save that for another day.
The announcement in Boston that prosecutors will move to dismiss thousands of drug convictions reminds us again of the importance of constantly challenging government accusations. A former drug lab “chemist”, Annie Dookhan, plead guilty to falsifying the results of thousands of blood tests. She was sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison and is currently out on parole.
On April 24, 2017, 21,000 criminal cases were dismissed over the actions of this formerly trusted government employee. Dookhan's job was to analyze drug samples for law enforcement. One witness told investigators that he had never seen her use a microscope, that she had misidentified cocaine samples as being heroin and had later resorted to just making up numbers and forged supervisor's signatures. Outrageously, Dookhan labeled many drug tests as positive when she never even tested them!
As a so-called chemist, Dookhan testified on behalf of the government as an expert witness in trials, which resulted in countless victims being falsely convicted for illegal drug possession. As a result, many were sent to jail or prison. Labeled as criminals, they ended up with criminal convictions that haunted them in numerous ways, stigmatizing them and preventing them from gaining employment and housing.
Ponder the significance of this: 21,000 human beings falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. Imagine being dragged through the stress and grief of the legal system. Being handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police car. Dealing with bail and the horror of being labeled a “defendant”. Prosecutors insisting on accepting pleas to criminal charges or face the threat of further punishment and longer incarceration. Imagine the emotional wreckage alone, the marriages and families destroyed. All due to a rogue government agent wanting to be “right” at all costs.
The lessons here are numerous. Intentional or not, mistakes can be made in testing. As was the case in the 21,000 dismissed convictions, the government insistence on the reliability of their efforts should continue to be challenged.