Inspector General Issues Drug Lab Report

Post Date: March 4, 2014

Today, Massachusetts’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued its long-awaited report on the Hinton drug lab scandal. The purpose of the OIG’s investigation was to look at how the Hinton lab was run for the 10 years before it was shut down in 2012.  We’ve summarized a few of the OIG’s findings and recommendations below; you can read the full 121-page report here.

The OIG’s report doesn’t say anything about our current laws. It does, however, provide yet more evidence for why mandatory minimum sentences for drugs must be repealed.  Drug offenders should be judged according to what they did, not how much the evidence weighed.  

The OIG’s findings. The OIG found many major problems with how the drug lab was run.  Here are three findings that may be of most interest to FAMM members:  

  • Chemist Annie Dookhan was the “sole bad actor.” The OIG was highly critical of the drug lab’s managers and the Dept. of Public Health leadership.  But it found no evidence that Dookhan tampered with other chemists’ drug samples, even when she was confirming another chemist’s test results.  The OIG also found no evidence that other chemists helped Dookhan tamper with her drug samples or that they tampered with their own samples. 
  • The Hinton lab did not turn over certain documents that might have provided drug defendants with “potentially exculpatory evidence” – evidence that might lead to a “not guilty” finding in court.   As a result, an independent, out-of-state lab is retesting about 2,300 drug samples.  The OIG will issue a follow-up report on those test results.    
  • For trafficking cases involving many drug samples, where every sample wasn’t tested, there were problems with how some chemists estimated the total weight. 

The OIG’s recommendations.  The OIG made many recommendations on how a drug lab should be run.  For cases where the evidence was tested at the Hinton lab:  

  • If Annie Dookhan was the primary chemist, any drug sample should be “treated as suspect and be subject to careful review”;
  • Any trafficking case where the drug weight was just above the amount needed to convict a defendant of a particular offense (14, 28, 100 or 200 grams) should be “carefully reviewed.”  

The OIG declined to say how the courts should resolve drug lab cases, but noted that court decisions from other states about similar lab problems may be helpful. (We will let our members know when Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court issues its decision in the six drug lab cases under review.)

What this means for prisoners or those with pending cases.  Prisoners whose evidence was tested at the Hinton Lab between 2002 and 2012 should contact their defense attorneys to see if the OIG report might affect their cases.  The report details many problems other than the ones described above. If their defense attorney is no longer available, they can call the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the public defender’s office) at 1-800-882-2095 and ask for the “drug lab hotline.”

Please let us know if you have any questions. 

Barb 

Barbara J. Dougan
Massachusetts Project Director
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) 

Contact FAMM’s Massachusetts Project:
By phone: (617) 543-0878
By email: bdougan@famm.org
By mail: P.O. Box 54, Arlington, MA 02476