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A WBUR SPECIAL REPORT

BadChemistry

Annie Dookhan And The Massachusetts Drug Lab Crisis

Date Set For Dookhan To Change Plea

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BOSTON — The former state chemist accused of falsifying thousands of drug tests and throwing the Massachusetts criminal justice system into a tailspin is expected to plead guilty.

If Annie Dookhan pleads guilty, it’s likely that she would serve at least three years on charges of obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence before being eligible for parole.

“It appears as though she is going to plead guilty and then there’s just a question of whether or not the jail sentence the judge has indicated she will impose would be imposed immediately or whether there would be some sort of stay of execution,” said Randy Chapman, a criminal defense attorney.

In her sentencing decision, Judge Carol Ball said if Dookhan pleaded guilty she would not exceed a three to five year state prison sentence followed by two years probation.

Judge Ball said she’s recommending more than the one to three years recommended by state sentencing guidelines because tens of thousands of criminal cases were potentially compromised by Dookhan’s faulty drug testing. And as a result, some 300 inmates were released.

Judge Ball described Dookhan as a “tragic and broken person” whose criminal behavior was driven by her desire to be a productive employee.

Dookhan’s attorney, Nicholas Gordon, requested a one year sentence, saying that Dookhan never deliberately intended harm, has no criminal record and is caretaker for her 7-year-old disabled son.

Attorney Bob Harnais, with the Massachusetts Bar Association, was part of the group that reviewed affected cases. He hopes the state takes steps to improve oversight.

“Nobody is a victor here. Unfortunately the system has failed and we as members of the Bar have to all work together and realize that we have to bring integrity back to the system,” Harnais said. “This is a system that people rely on. It failed us. It failed both the Bar, it failed the prosecutors and it failed the communities.

“There has to be confidence back in the system that these checks and balances will exist and these types of failures will not happen again,” he added.

Prosecutors have asked for a five to seven year sentence. A statement from Attorney General Martha Coakley says it’s up to the judge to determine a sentence, and her office is still prepared to go to trial if necessary.

The change of plea hearing is scheduled for Nov. 22.

Meanwhile, the state inspector general is still investigating all lab operations and reviewing why no red flags were raised in the nine years Dookhan worked at the now closed Hinton Drug Lab in Jamaica Plain.

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