If you get arrested for a crime that involves drugs or alcohol, at some point a chemical test will have to be made. In the context of driving under the influence (DUI), chemical tests include breathalyzers, blood tests, and urine tests, and are done to determine exactly what was in a driver's bloodstream at the time of the arrest. When the criminal charges involve drug possession or other, similar, crimes, the chemical test will be performed on the drugs found, to determine exactly what they are.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys know to investigate all the steps of evidence collection, even those that happen behind the scenes, like chemical testing, because egregious mistakes can be made. Case in point: Massachusetts.
The difficulties in the New England state began coming to light in 2013, when state chemist Annie Dookhan pled guilty to 27 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and tampering with evidence. Ms. Dookhan was responsible for conducting chemical testing for criminal prosecutions. She actively tampered with an estimated 60,000 drug samples to help the prosecution team get convictions. Tens of thousands of criminal cases and convictions were affected, and numerous criminal defendants were wrongly found guilty as a result of her actions. She has since been sentenced to three to five years in jail, and those who were convicted based on evidence that she tainted have been allowed to seek new trials.
The gavel had barely fallen on Ms. Dookhan's case when another problem emerged in Massachusetts' chemical testing procedures. Like in Washington, when drivers are pulled over for DUI in Massachusetts, they typically undergo multiple breathalyzer tests. One is done by the police during the traffic stop, with a portable breathalyzer. The second is done at the police station, into a larger, more reliable machine. Because this second machine is more accurate, prosecutors use the readings from this breathalyzer as evidence during trial. However, it has recently come to light that many of these machines have been calibrated incorrectly, resulting in false readings that have led to erroneous convictions.
The miscalibrated breathalyzer machines have not been fixed, yet, but Massachusetts already has another issue with its chemical testing on its hands. Another of the state chemists in charge of conducting chemical testing on evidence of drug crimes, Sonja Farak, has recently pled guilty to tampering with evidence. Her role in the lab was to test drug samples obtained by law enforcement. Ms. Farak, however, was a drug addict, herself, and used her position to get cocaine, acid, methamphetamine, marijuana, and other drugs, which she then used while on the job. Over the course of her nine year career as a state chemist, Ms. Farak has been assigned to test 29,000 drug samples. Attorneys involved in the case say that it would be “fairly conservative” to estimate that there are 10,000 defendants affected by Ms. Farak's actions.
While most states are not such a gold mine of chemical testing anomalies as Massachusetts has become, experienced criminal defense attorneys know where to look to find these issues in prosecutorial evidence. Attorney Kevin Trombold is one such attorney. Call his law office at 206-971-0067.