Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Annie Dookhan sentenced to 3-5 years in prison

Via the Boston Globe, a sad end to this sordid tale (how's that for a cliché?):
Annie Dookhan, the drug analyst who tampered with evidence and jeopardized tens of thousands of criminal convictions, was sentenced Friday to three to five years in state prison, closing a sorrowful chapter for the woman at the center of a scandal that continues to plague the state’s criminal justice system. The 36-year-old mother of a disabled child, whose marriage fell apart in the months after the scandal, softly pleaded guilty to 27 counts of misleading investigators, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence. She must also serve two years of probation and undergo mental health counseling, if needed. 
After the sentence was handed down, Dookhan struggled to hold back tears as she whispered with her lawyer before being led away in handcuffs by court officers. Two family members, believed to be her parents, watched from the courtroom gallery. Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office prosecuted the case, said in an interview later that the conviction of Dookhan was only one part of an ongoing investigation into the quality of drug testing at the Hinton drug lab, but she said it was needed to bring some accountability for her crimes. 
“Certainly one of the victims in this case, and the actions of Annie Dookhan, is the public trust,” Coakley said. 
Dookhan’s lawyer, Nicolas A. Gordon, would not comment after Friday’s hearing. He had asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol S. Ball to sentence Dookhan to no more than a year in prison. Dookhan admitted to filing false test results and mixing drug samples, and to later lying under oath about her job qualifications, but she said it was only to boost her work performance. 
Prosecutors had asked that Dookhan serve 5 to 7 years in prison, but Ball kept to her earlier decision that she would sentence the chemist to 3 to 5 years, finding that, while Dookhan was a “broken person who has been undone by her own ambition,” the consequences of her crimes were still “nothing short of catastrophic.”
Considering how many people were sent to prison without proper due process (well into the dozens or hundreds, I suspect), her sentence is comically insufficient. Harry Elston is on record (on Twitter) saying that she should be serving the sum total of time served by the innocent people that she sent to prison; can't say I disagree with him.

UPDATE: Here's Carmen Drahl's story on the sentencing at C&EN. Via Carmen and WBUR, the judge's sentencing opinion, which gives some insight as to her logic. 

22 comments:

  1. Well, that's what happens when you hire people based on their ability to please.

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    1. Insert snarky comment about congress.

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  2. Have we seen a report yet on how many cases she has affected?

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    1. Hard to say, WBUR in Boston's site says 40k Dookhan cases, with 190,000 under review. 337 people have been released. Their site is pretty comprehensive:

      http://badchemistry.wbur.org/

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  3. I would put her in the same cell with her former supervisors; this is management failure above all. With regard to the length of the sequence: 3 years + long probation is pretty bad. On the other hand, people are being locked up based on drug or gun related charges for smaller offenses, to much longer times than 3 years.

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    1. "this is management failure above all"

      huh? I agree management bears some responsibility, but clearly this woman knowingly falsified data she had to have known would imperil (potentially) innocent people. To me, this is clear evil. I'm dismayed she was not thrown in jail longer

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    2. I'm not sure if it was evil. Could have been she did not think seriously about the repercussions of what she was doing. Could be she was just kind of a clueless woman who wanted to get ahead, no matter what. Cheating didn't seem like a big deal to her.

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    3. Yes, but that's what "reckless indifference" is for. You may not intend bad things to happen, but if you do things that are likely to cause them and don't care about the consequences, well, that's not much better than having done them intentionally.

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    4. @biotechtoreador Yes, she falsified data, but management had a responsibility to design their processes to prevent a single person from doing this. Also, they do have some responsibility for giving her an impossible case load in the first place, which really would be the root cause of the falsification in the first place. She's wearing Orange now, and so should management.

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    5. biotechtoreador, there are articles out there that say Dookhan's co-workers grew suspicious of her productivity and raised concerns to her managers, which were obviously ignored. She absolutely deserves the brunt of it, but management should be eating it too.

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  4. Wow, retributive justice much, CJ? What does society, or any of the wrongly convicted, gain from locking this poor 'broken person' up for the rest of her life?
    The threat of jail time, whether months or decades, is a pretty good deterrent for most people, but an eye for an eye leaves the world blind and the taxpayers wasting their money to incarcerate countless people who are no longer threats to society.

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    1. I think I have somewhat more experience with the prison system than the median chemist, so I think I have a sense of what I speak of, in terms of the unpleasantness of prison life.

      If you're suggesting that 1) prison sentences are too long, 2) the criminal justice system is messed up and 3) we could go with wholesale reform, I think that you're right. If you have an issue with the way we proceed with drug crimes, I agree with you there, too.

      If the state of Massachusetts sentenced her to a longer prison term, it would demonstrate that it was prepared to deal with crimes committed by members of the criminal justice system as harshly or more harshly than drug crimes. There might be better ways of demonstrating that, for which I'd enjoy hearing your solution.

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    2. A1:36: Problem is, if you let people use the criminal justice system for their own purposes, you have a very good chance of making society as a whole blind. Putting innocent (at least of the crimes they were arrested for) takes lots of useful people and renders them not useful, often permanently. It also makes people less likely to trust the current (imperfect) justice system and more likely to substitute their own instead. Care to bet whether the system likely to result will be more just than this one or not?

      Given that a significant number of people can't be trusted to play with others, something is going to be there. When crimes are committed that are unlikely to be repeated (so sentences don't prevent them from doing it again any more than no sentences), people still want some form of justice, some acknowledgement that whatever they harmed was not worthless. In the absence of any such penalty, you'll probably get 1) more people doing harm and 2) more people responding to harm themselves, probably with more harm. As above, the likely result is probably not beneficial to people as a whole.

      CJ: The only problem I would have in making Dookhan serve the sentences of the people she helped to wrongly put away is that I don't think we do anything similar for prosecutors or other people who intentionally (or by reckless indifference) wrongly charge and prosecute people. They more directly knew that they were doing wrong and didn't care, and yet I don't think they pay a proportionate penalty. Maybe you have to start somewhere, but I'm not certain it would mean much other than "if you're not powerful enough to have friends in high places, and we catch you doing wrong, we'll nail you to the wall". In addition, in other crimes, we can't really add up the cost in time and enact that on the offender - I don't think we do it anywhere, even where we could (NHL/NFL, for example - making players sit out until the person they intentionally hurt is able to play again).

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    3. Yeah, so I think I should clarify above that I'm speaking for myself, and not for Harry.

      But I think that Harry's punishment is Solomonically just, i.e. I am saying "In a just world, that would be a punishment that would suitably show how unhappy we are with her past conduct, and how harshly we are prepared to punish people in the future."

      However, that doesn't mean that we should codify my preferences into law or sentencing guidelines; I think that would be a bad idea.

      Hap, you make a good point that this would be an unusual level of punishment. But perhaps I find this to be an unusual case of wrongdoing in the criminal justice system (that probably means that I'm not paying attention enough.)

      Anon1:36: Sincerely, I thank you for this conversation -- it is interesting, and perhaps I need to re-examine how I view punishments in the criminal justice system.

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    4. I think it's an unusual event (if it weren't, we'd be totally screwed) and the fraud was rather breathtaking in scope (a prosecutor could only take on so many cases in a year, while Dookhan interfered with a metric f&*%ton of cases), and as above, she was recklessly indifferent to the consequences of her actions, and so is deserving of a lot of punishment. I just don't think we impose that sort of justice on people who eminently deserve it (this link is to an AZ article that about 20% of AZ death penalty cases may have involved prosecutorial misconduct - http://www.azcentral.com/news/arizona/articles/20131027milke-krone-prosecutors-conduct-day1.html) - we do make distinctions between people who consciously do wrong and those who just don't care, and it seems inconsistent to subject the latter to greater levels of punishment than the former (or rather, greater punishment per crime).

      Also, while I don't think management needs to serve jail time, they had a decent part in this as well. If the evidence is that important (to the work of the justice system and the freedom of lots of people), it needs to be validated more thoroughly. Having one person have complete control over sample provenance without confirmatory checks (particularly when her production was drastically different from those of other trained analysts) does not show any sort of proportionate care by her bosses. They seemed too blinded by the numbers and didn't care enough that the numbers were gotten how they often are, by dishonest imagination and not work. They didn't do their jobs, or take them seriously enough, and so this is what you get.

      I assumed you were just agreeing and not speaking for anyone else.

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    5. Worth pointing out that not catching Ms. Dookhan's wrongdoing has caused a lot of dislocation in her chain-of-administration:

      http://www.wbur.org/2012/09/13/state-drug-lab-shakeup

      I think that's the correct consequence.

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    6. CJ: Just curious, if this personal question isn't too sensitive, how did your "above average chemist's" exposure to the US penal system came about - Was it someone in your family or in the circle of close friends?

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    7. Sorry for delay, milkshake. It was in a volunteer capacity, not related to family/friends. State facility.

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  5. Wow. I get the feeling that this is a bit like sentencing Ra's al Ghul to 3-5 years in jail.

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  6. CJ, thanks the the link to the Carmen Drahl story. This is one of the reasons why the PA Department of Environmental Protection requires accredited labs to have an ethics policy and provide ethics training to employees within 2 months of employment and at least every 14 months after.

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  7. This is disgusting. In Massachusetts they have mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes with terms as long as ten years, and she gets three to five?

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  8. Too lenient in my opinion, especially given the # of cases botched.
    It seems/is deliberate tampering so she needs to be punished much harshly (10+ years if not longer).

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