By now, most of us have heard of Massachusetts crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan. Ms. Dookhan was arrested in September for allegedly obstructing justice by falsifying her lab work, providing false testimony and lying about her credentials. The lab has shut down and the investigation is ongoing. Her fake work may have affected as many as 60,000 lab results involving as many as 34,000 accused. Many wrongfully convicted inmates have already been released. Ms. Dookhan faces 20 years in prison if she is convicted.

In my opinion, twenty years is a slap on the wrist, given the egregious amount of damage a wrongful conviction inflicts on a person’s life and family. A twenty-year sentence for a crime of nonviolence can in reality only amount to as little as three to four years served before parole eligibility. I am personally in favor of per se zero-tolerance laws regarding forensic fraud: Any time a lab analyst falsifies lab results, falsely claims not to have the ability to test for items, lies about education or credentials, presents fake, made-up science to juries, or passes him or herself off as an ‘expert’ in clinical medicine and presents inappropriate and false clinical testimony to juries, that person should be subject to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Such actions amount to nothing less than rape, under color of a white coat.

The Massachusetts lab scandal is anything but unique. Most of the media attention to forensic fraud thus far has been related to DNA technology and exonerations, however. Now it is time to look at non-DNA lab analyst fraud that, while it may not lead to a death sentence, it does lead to irreversible destruction of lives and careers.

Many of you know that I was convicted of a DUI in Kentucky with no bad driving and two exculpatory lab results, indicating 1) 0.00 alcohol content of blood and 2) “no drugs detected” in the blood. This DUI led to other charges and convictions related to a controlled substance the arresting officer supposedly ‘found’ in his cruiser after an hour-and-a-half long roadside search of my vehicle and my person revealed no illegal substances. I received an eight-year sentence.

At trial the prosecution advanced its theory: that I was dangerously impaired on my prescription medication, Klonopin. The dangerous impairment was obvious: I had supposedly “failed” a roadside HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus) test. The reason the lab missed such a high level of this commonly prescribed medicine is that 1) the lab had no idea what to look for and 2) the lab had no way of testing for its presence and 3) if only the lab had known, it would have sent the blood to a third-party contract lab.

Six-and-one-half years after the arrest and affirmed convictions, I began looking at the trial testimony in my own case. I also made some inquiries. I learned, to my utter horror, that the lab did, in fact, have notification to look for this drug in my blood. I also learned that the crime labs typically do presumptive testing for substances. If nothing is detected during the preliminary testing, there is no need for confirmatory further identification and quantification because the drug in question was either 1) not present or 2) not present at any level of toxicological (or therapeutic) value or interest. I learned from a conversation with the maker of Klonopin that any trial testimony departure from the FDA-approved product insert is inappropriate.

At my trial, after misleading the jury in my case about the lab’s notification that this was indeed a drug to look for, as it was listed which as a valid prescription at the time of the arrest, the lab analyst put on his physician’s hat and provided a rather impressive false testimonial about 1) the drug’s “immediate effects” at therapeutic levels, including, but not limited to “both vertical and horizontal gaze nystagmus.” His testimony stands in stark contrast to the FDA-approved product insert (separating adverse events into two distinct and clear categories), the peer-reviewed PubMed literature, wherein at least fourteen articles discuss the use of this drug for therapeutic treatment of various types of pathological nystagmus, as well as at least one study specifically addressing impaired driving that found no correlation between HGN and Klonopin. All of these studies were completed and published before the lab analyst took the stand and provided the testimony that led to my convictions. To bolster his credibility and qualifications he offered a nonsensical explanation that sounded sort of technical nonetheless by stating that the “chlorine atom makes it so that liquid-liquid extraction is incapable of pulling [Klonopin] out of the blood.”* Having taken Organic Chemistry myself and having grown up with a father who co-founded a clinical laboratory in the Northwest, I was, to mildly understate, shocked to see these words come out of a lab worker’s mouth, when I reviewed the tapes.

If I get nothing else across in this post, I would like to convey some key concepts as follows. Forget CSI. Just because someone calls him or herself an ‘expert,’ a ‘chemist’ or an ‘analyst’ does not mean that they are. A white coat is meaningless. Crime labs are most often another police department and nothing more. Lab analysts are techs working for the prosecution and if they have to misrepresent an unambiguous exculpatory result as somehow inculpatory, they will. If they have to make up science, they will, just to get a conviction at all costs. With nothing more than a bachelor’s degree at most, crime lab analysts can and will misrepresent themselves and testify as clinical ‘experts,’ even if, as in my case, they have never seen or tested for the drug in question. Crime labs receive millions of dollars from the government (Paul Coverdell grants) with little or no oversight or accountability. When you give your blood in accordance with your state statutes, please, please, do not ever assume that you will be ‘cleared’ if the results come back negative. It is absolutely essential that you get extra tubes of blood drawn and sent to a competent clinical laboratory.

For further reading on this issue, please visit this University of Virginia Law Review article:

http://virginialawreview.org/content/pdfs/95/1.pdf

*During jury selection (voir dire) in my case, the prosecutor excused a prospective juror who was a chemical engineer because the prosecutor did not want someone with knowledge of chemistry to serve on my jury.

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Comments
  1. ed nelson says:

    Best ever! Crane Station!

    I really enjoyed this post, because it is great!!

    I read the link: http://virginialawreview.org/content/pdfs/95/1.pdf

    and… that is what anybody who should do…

    I have a question… : in that I didn’t see one of my kind of questions about how… that DNA, can be got from anybody… and stored and so on… and who’s to say, that that DNA, that could be got from your… discarded cigarette… dixie cup… etc.etc…. Well how do any of us peoples, should think themselves safe… against some kind of DNA plant… Like: somebody could take your… wastebasket where you put your snot… and etc… !!

    And then that could be… planted anywhere’s…!!!

    Is that too much for the imagination… Jose?

  2. ed nelson says:

    HI Crane… I read most of that thing, but the one thing I didn’t see, was, the point about how it is possible or more than likely, that there is in some cases… (evidence… can be “salted”) or put in there, and it isn’t really real.

    I didn’t see a section that really pointed to the fact that… DNA can be got from anybodies bathroom wastebasket… and put anywhere’s by jackass for hire assholes… and so… who’s to be sure, that anybody’s safe from being… you know… who could be sure…?

  3. ed nelson says:

    Hi Crane Sta…
    I have a hard time believing that this human world will be gone down the toilet, because of what seems to be happenening.

    The worst of the lowest sorry ass low intelligence types, because they predominate… (FCS’s)

    What is happening is: the dumbass’s have taken over!!

    • I agree. It’s amazing. Time for the passing public to fight back. As I see it, the only thing that makes any sense in Massachusetts… is 34,000 appeals on newly discovered evidence that are pursued to the hilt all the way through state and Federal courts, as well as 34,000 lawsuits.

      Annie Dookhan belongs under a prison someplace with the key discarded. A Federal Supermax would be preferable, actually. Hmm. Wonder if any of her work crossed any state lines- one can only hope. Anyway, she is dangerous.

  4. ed nelson says:

    Dear Crane Station could you tell me why, the onliest commenter, is just… Little Ole Wine Maker Me…?

    What is the reason that your blogg has no commenters, (there have been a few in times past…), but I like to comment to you because you are floating important ideas and issues, etc.

    Now my question is: why aren’t there many commenters, not just little ole’ me… ?

    Getting back to the question, why is your great blogg being avoided by the bloggers, while you are accepted at that place FDL, where I was banned, and many have been “banned,” and I see that you are trapesing around with the likes of… “pull up your cat” [ Margaret…], that guy is not on a level that I approve of. YEah GUY, that I remember getting. and some others there!!

    another one that is: Pheonex woman… : translate: A gay guy in Minnisota.

    • Not sure if I can answer other than to say that most people who comment to my posts do so at Firedoglake, SmirkingChimp, Salon, or even Fred’s site, but not here.

      I continue to get a lot of views here, and have known for a long time that reader views have practically nothing to do with comments.

      At the Lake, when Kelly Canfield was still moderating, he once revealed that one of the main-page mothership popular bloggers received four or five thousand reads, but no comments. Might have been Tom Englehardt or David Dayen. Somebody like that.

    • Oops, missed the last part of your question. Sometimes I used to comment at the old Caturday, but felt really ignored. I tried again at “pull up your cat” and felt like people were very nice. Thing is, I have a bird and not a cat! Makes it hard to participate in a cat blog!

      Any web site worth its salt needs a bird blog, IMO!!

      • ed nelson says:

        One of the things I like to notice… is, how smart birds are. Now the other day, a humming bird came up to one of the flower plants in front of my porch where I was talkin’ on my phone, and since it wasn’t used to seeing me, it hovered and went into a bush and perched for a time.

        The little tiney humming bird showed quite a bit of cunning there I thought.

        and another observation I made on birds is: I can go walk into my back yard, and if I just do my chores, and stuff that is non threatening… See that is what I mean, the birds know that you are not threatening! They have a sense that tells them when and if they are under predation, do we have that when we need it?

        You can become close with animals if you don’t ruffle their feathers and be intrusive.

        The little animals have some amazing… well call it… intuitions… and humanoids may have some reason for concern, regarding what could be a terrible egocentric preocupation… and self enoblement. (if that is a word… ).

      • Very sad, just learned that SouthernDragon and Scarecrow are both suffering from serious challenges related to cancer. I did not know this because I have not visited the Lake that much this month.

  5. ed nelson says:

    Crane baby… I am working for your cause… I am in favor of the authentic …. INOW’s…

    Ok Ok, maybe I strayed off course for a moment…

    Oh well… Like I say… oh well it’s getting a little late in the day… I guess, I should shut up!

  6. ed nelson says:

    well I care about folks who go down that road… My dad and mom have gone down that road… pretty recently… and some others have gone down that road… oh well, I guess all of our loved ones go down that road… leaving us in the breach… oh well!

    • ed nelson says:

      [“Very sad, just learned that SouthernDragon and Scarecrow are both suffering from serious challenges related to cancer. “]

      Hi Crane babe… (hope you don’t mind my… sort of “sexist type a deal there.. ” , hell no I am about the last of the bastards… but we could go into that some future moment… I was a kid, that was thinking:… geezus, if I was to nail that broad, I would be depriving some other possible DNA sequence from taking place… !! ( Who is there that can ‘dig’ that kind of weird self… censure.)

      ________________________

      And back to the beginning. I didn’t have too many speaks with either of those two folks, but I did like their posts/comments, As I gathered the both of em were ‘NAM vets, who were exposed to “Agent Orange”, ( D4d ) defoliant, )

      By the way… we have a proposition 37 in Cally, which is only to have the simple thing of labeling… you know, just that there should be labeling of…. food that is genetically altered!!!
      The bastards want to stop that.

      These bastards, to give them a nice name… will do what I said they would do… The devils will kill us all!

      ________________________

      Folks are not really getting it are they? It is about life verses anti life… there is a war.

  7. ed nelson says:

    I think I should addend that comment with the fact that… I have had recent deaths from so called: “cancer”, several of my fam’s have died… from what, I guess is cancer!

    My mommy, who was a real good bridge player, and a pretty smart little gal… but she died, after she planted her nose into the pavement over there in… Terra Linda , and she was never again to be on her own again, because, that was it!

    Poor Mommie took a serious hit, [ nose to ground!] and she had a black face!

    Well don’t let me get started about ole’ dad’sville… Jessus… my daddy got what you don’t need… such as… such as… like how a bout some … Lou Gehrig’s
    Image Detail for – Lou Gehrig Remembered – The ALS Association

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