On Martha’s Vineyard, 44 drug cases dismissed after laboratory scandal

44 drug cases on Martha's Vineyard will be dismissed as a result of a lab scandal.

The misconduct of a single chemist, Annie Dookhan, at the Department of Public Health’s Hinton Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, has morphed into a statewide crisis, where 1,067 drug cases from the Cape and Islands will be dismissed, according to a press release from District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.

On Martha’s Vineyard, two cases in Superior Court have already been dealt with, and another three are scheduled for dismissal, Mr. O’Keefe told The Times on Wednesday. Though the drug cases will be dismissed, some may have accompanying charges, and those convictions will be upheld, Mr. O’Keefe said.

In District Court, 39 cases have been or will be dismissed. In another case scheduled for dismissal, the person had died.

“This is a crisis that was occasioned by the actions of one chemist, but it was made into a statewide crisis because the Department of Public Health (DPH) laboratory where this occurred really had no kinds of the appropriate quality control that you would expect to find in a forensic crime laboratory such as the state police laboratory,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

State police uncovered the scandal when drug analyses moved from the DPH laboratory to the Massachusetts State Police forensic laboratory in 2011. Mr. O’Keefe’s press release attributed the scandal to a “lack of oversight of Governor Patrick’s Department of Public Health.” District Attorneys were notified of the closure of the DPH Laboratory on Aug. 30, 2012.

“In a forensic laboratory, with appropriate peer review and checks and balances, it would have been uncovered probably within a week and that damage would have been limited to a small number of cases,” Mr. O’Keefe told The Times.

Ms. Dookhan, who worked at the DPH laboratory from 2003 to 2012, pled guilty in 2013 to tampering with evidence, where the state had to dismiss more than 20,000 cases that she analyzed, according to published reports.

Mr. O’Keefe said that the dismissals are aimed to protect the “integrity” of the justice system, but come at a significant cost.

“There is a significant price to pay when something like that happens,” he said. “There’s an old adage that it’s better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be convicted. That’s kind of the guiding principle behind what’s being done here to protect the integrity of our system of justice, these many, many cases are being dismissed.”