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Independent prosecutor needed in state crime lab fiasco

To the editor:

Massachusetts has mandatory drug sentences. District attorneys charge defendants based on the weight of confiscated drugs. The weight and type of drug determine the length of the sentence.

In Massachusetts, the difference of one gram, the amount of a Sweet N’ Low packet, can mean a sentence of two years in jail or 3½ years in prison. Under mandatory sentences the circumstances of the “crime,” the actual culpability of the person, is not part of the equation. This can mean that someone living in an apartment with someone possessing drugs can be charged equally with person possessing the drugs.

We know that 1,141 men and women are in jail or prison based on the drug samples tested by Annie Dookhan, the former chemist with the state crime lab, who is now facing charges.

It is not known how many others have been convicted who have wrapped up their jail or prison time. Dookhan has admitted to adding cocaine to a sample she tested and finding samples positive for cocaine where no cocaine was found by another lab tech. It was reported that Suffolk and Norfolk County prosecutors asked for Dookhan by name so she could “test” drug samples for cases they were prosecuting and called her personal cell phone to request she test specific evidence.

These are significant breaches in protocol not only for people working in the crime lab but for the assistant district attorneys making the calls.

While district attorneys do not work under the supervision of Attorney General Martha Coakley, they work closely with her and she was a district attorney from 1999 to 2007. I do not believe that Coakley has the objectivity needed to lead the investigation. A true investigation must shine needed light on Dookhan, the crime lab and on the assistant district attorneys who called her believing the “tests” she conducted and sworn testimony she provided could result in outcomes they were seeking.

Gov. Deval Patrick needs to appoint an independent prosecutor and Massachusetts lawmakers need to end mandatory drug sentences so judges can look at the totality of the person rather than a system of weights before locking someone up for years.

Lois Ahrens


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