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Massachusetts Chemist Sentenced for Tampering With Narcotic Evidence

Massachusetts crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to 27 charges, like tampering with evidence, perjury, obstruction of justice, and falsely claiming to hold a master’s degree. The woman deliberately affected the lives of over 40,000 defendants who were wrongly released, or convicted based on her inaccurate test results.

Case Background

Annie Dookhan’s job as a crime lab chemist entailed the testing of drug evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain. Authorities began an investigation of Dookhan’s lab practices after they were “tipped off” by her colleagues as to the reliability of her results. They soon learned that Dookhan engaged in a regular practice of visually identifying drug samples instead of chemically testing the contents of the evidentiary vials.

Dookhan only tested a small fraction of the samples, and then recorded all the samples in the batch as “positive” for drugs. The woman’s practice, also known as “dry-labbing,” enabled her to cut corners by saving time and “completing” a larger amount of cases. Reportedly, Annie Dookhan tampered with evidence because she sought to advance her career with her increased productivity. Nevertheless, since her arrest in August 2012 an estimated 40,000 defendants could be affected by Dookhan’s testing.

Annie Dookhan’s False Expert Testimony

Aside from her faulty drug tests, Annie Dookhan has also tampered with her own accreditations in a court of law. Called in to testify as an expert in a criminal trial for cocaine charges, Dookhan claimed that she held a Master’s Degree in Chemistry for the University of Massachusetts. The jury considered her testimony as reliable expertise, and thus overturned the criminal defendant’s conviction in the case. As a result of Dookhan’s false claims in court, the guilty defendant was released, he continued a chain of illegal activity, and even killed a Brockton, Massachusetts resident.

Long-term Effects of Dookhan’s Fraudulent Actions

Annie Dookhan deliberately affected tens of thousands of lives by dry-labbing. For every piece of evidence she did not test, yet marked as a drug sample, a person was wrongly convicted and might still be serving time. According to Attorney General Martha Coakley, Annie Dookhan’s actions “harmed the integrity of the system and put the public’s safety at risk.” While Dookhan’s attorney urged that his client never intended to “throw the entire Massachusetts criminal justice system into a tailspin,” but this is a hard contention to consider. Dookhan wanted to advance her career, and she ignored all the innocent lives that were forced under the criminal system, as well as the millions of dollars which the state will have to spend to rectify her mistakes. The future is unclear for Massachusetts drug testing labs, wherein more and more incidents of shoddy oversight have plagued their reliability.

Assault and technology: You won’t get away with it

Imagine, while on the highway stuck in traffic, you witness a collision between an SUV and a motorcycle. Before you know it, you see the SUV surrounded by other bikers who begin to attack and assault the SUV driver. You whip out your cell phone and make a video of the scene. What should you do now?

Earlier this month, fellow drivers in New York found themselves in a similar situation.  Thanks to technology, a few concerned citizens were able to record an assault that took place on Manhattan’s West Side Highway. The amateur video footage, which went viral, caught bikers swarming around an SUV, then the driver plowing over one of the motorcyclist to flee the scene, and ended with the driver pulled out of his vehicle and brutally beaten in front of his family. Authorities have used this footage to bring charges against the driver and six other motorcyclists.

The facts so far demonstrate that the video footage collected is instrumental in figuring out the sequence of events. So far, the police are using the video footage as a starting point to determine what charges to bring against each party.

As the events have unfolded, more citizens have come forward with footage they recorded on their cell phones and iPads. As a result, some initial charges have been dropped and others sustained against the bikers and the driver. The video coverage also promises to play a key role at trial. The prosecutors are very likely to use the footage to demonstrate the physical force and brutality exercised in this in assault.

The extra video footage off of peoples’ cell phones and iPads provides missing links to the puzzle. Thanks to the extra clues,  authorities are learning and identifying new facts about this case everyday. A few simple steps by average citizens have helped resolve this case in a matter of weeks.

How to identify an assault:

Many individuals would not be able to identify or recognize if a crime is taking place, especially if it is an assault.  An assault occurs when someone threatens bodily harm to another in a convincing manner. In this case, the bikers and driver were charged with assault and gang assault. Under the model penal code, for an act to be considered an assault and to rise to the level of an actionable offense, two elements must be present:

  1. The act was intended to cause apprehension of harmful or offensive contact, and
  2. The act indeed caused apprehension in the victim that harmful or offensive contact would occur.

The punishment for committing an assault upon another person varies state to state. Under Massachusetts law, (Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 265 sec.) 13A(a), anyone who commits an assault can be punished by imprisonment for up to 21 years or by a fine of not more than $1000 dollars.

If you see something, say something

If you ever find yourself witnessing an assault, you should immediately report it to the authorities by calling 911. If you do not have signals or are unable to make a call at the time, do not get involved if you feel you may be at risk of being harmed. Also, if you used any technology while witnessing a crime and have any evidence that may be helpful, you should immediately turn it over to the authorities instead holding onto evidence. The key here is not to put yourself in danger and possibly, escalate the situation further.   If you end up in the unfortunate position of witnessing a crime and can provide any clues to resolve the situation, you have done your part as a concerned citizen.

The Role of Technology

This high profile biker assault is not the first case where video footage plays an important role in determining and sequencing events of a crime. The Boston Marathon Suspects were identified were identified through private security camera footage from storefronts, and photos and recordings taken by innocent bystanders. The FBI was able to identify the suspects only after 3 days because of the overwhelming about of recordings and photographs they had received.

Thanks to easy access to smart phones, iPads, and digital cameras, it is easier now more than ever to capture images and clues to a crime electronically. If you ever come across such information, it is imperative that you hand this information over to the police. Every bit helps when you are trying to piece together a puzzle.

Social Media in the Courtroom

Add social media savvy to the list of qualifications for perspective attorneys. The use of blogs, social media, and related technology is on the rise. A survey conducted by GreenTarget along with InsideCounsel Magazine and the Zeughauser Consulting Firm shows in-house attorneys using social media tools to connect with professionals and everyday people like you and me.

The survey was initially conducted in 2010. However, much has changed over the course of three years according to John Corey, GreenTarget President.

“Our 2013 survey makes it crystal clear — as evidenced by the sustained prominence of LinkedIn and attorney-authored blogs, the growth in mobile consumption of news and a continuation of the ‘invisible user’ trend — that in-house lawyers are using social media as part of their daily routines.”

Other highlights of the study show dependence on mobile devices is skyrocketing. In fact, the survey showed nearly 40 percent of its respondents using tablets and another 23-percent using apps for their daily news.

Other Highlights include:

•Respondents of the survey also reported more confidence in blogs and articles that are written by attorneys themselves. Just over 50 percent of the respondents say reading such blogs can also affect hiring choices.

•LinkedIn remains the primary social network for professionals.

•Respondents rely on smartphones or tablets for industry and business news

•Infrequent consumption of videos from attorney websites

The study also shows that more professionals are depending on websites such as Wikipedia to help conduct legal industry research. This displays the shift in which information is retained and distributed. Furthermore, legal experts are using such information to communicate with clients, consumers, and other industry leaders. This is why it’s so important for attorneys to make the most out of their social media tools. One way to start is by establishing more credibility with a blog. However, legal professionals are also eyeing other social media accounts to help support evidence in the courtroom. This type of information is not displayed on their blog or website.

Social Media as Evidence

Blogging has become a popular tool for legal professionals. However, lawyers are not only using social media to distribute information about their cases. Some are also using popular sites like Facebook and Twitter to help build up evidence about such cases.

Hurting Criminals & Helping Justice

The Steubenville rape case is a prime example of how social media is impacting the justice system. The sexual assault case involved two high school football players and a 16-year-old girl from Steubenville, Ohio. After looking at overwhelming evidence, from everything to videos, tweets, and pictures that the boys placed on social media accounts, it was a no-brainer for the judge, Thomas Lipps, to hand down a guilty verdict.

Social Media as Evidence

But it wasn’t a no-brainer; in fact it was just the opposite. The case is forcing law officials to take a second look at how they are utilizing social media and technology in their own cases. The defense attorneys had a field day tracking down messages, videos, and pictures of the boys performing sexual acts on the victim. But they also had some support from fellow party-attendees, as other teens were not shy about sharing their own videos and comments about the incident on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. But let’s not forget about the ability for media to go viral. What really hit the bank in this case on behalf of the defense, was the hacker group coined “Anonymous”. The group of hackers was able to trace down and publish the events of the night the alleged sexual assault took place.

Adding the cherry to the cake, two girls were charged with a third degree felony for intimidating the witness.  The girls, ages 15 and 16, were also charged with aggravated menacing and telecommunication harassment, both misdemeanors.

Ohio General Attorney Mike DeWine said on CNN that, “People … are allowed to say crazy things, and that’s fine, but they can’t under Ohio law threaten to kill someone, and we had to take action.”

Legal Implications of the Case and Social Media

The Steubenville case just goes to show how close everyone, including law enforcement, is paying attention to social media. So what can fellow attorneys and legal practitioners take away from this?  One thing’s for sure. They can tell their clients to be careful what they’re sharing, because it can later come back to bite them.

As for the way courts are handling social media, Harvard Professor of Law Alan Dershowitz told USA Today, “It’s the wave of the future…It’s going to change the way evidence is gathered in cases. It’s already happening.”

The two boys convicted of the sexual assault must register as sex offenders. One of the convicted teens will have to register as an offender every six month for the next 20 years.  This just goes to show how sharing information through social and digital media has shifted the way cases are handled in the courtroom.

References

  1. “In-house counsel’s growing social media conscience ” Inside Counsel, accessed  June 11, 2013, http://www.insidecounsel.com/2013/05/01/in-house-counsels-growing-social-media-conscience
  2. “Social Media Networking For lawyers: A Practical Guide to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging” American Bar Website, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2012/january_february/social-media-networking-for-lawyers.html
  3. “Steubenville rape case driven by social media”, USA Today, accessed June 15, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/03/18/steubenville-rape-social-media-football/1997687/

Massachusetts Discovery Rules Protects Against Surprise Evidence

protect shield
Shield taken by Taifighta

You are sitting at home on your comfortable couch watching a court room drama.  The defendant seems like he is winning the case much to your chagrin.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the prosecutor pulls out a surprise witness and evidence.  Then BAM, the jurors all nod along with the prosecutor and the tables have turned for the worse for the defendant. 

This is great court room drama, but under the Massachusetts criminal discovery rules prosecutors are generally prevented from using this strategy in real life.  Prior to any case going to trial in Massachusetts, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer need to go through a discovery phase.  During the MA criminal discovery process, the prosecution needs to provide evidence that it intends to use at trial.  The prosecutor also has an ongoing duty to continue to produce evidence that is revealed later down the line. 

The Massachusetts rules require the prosecutor to provide evidence that may incriminate you, but also evidence that may help to show that you are innocent.  In the past, it would be difficult for you to force the prosecutor to turn over witness statements or even a list of witnesses.  Now the MA rules have tried to make the trial process fairer for defendants.  With the new MA rules in place, MA courts are trying to make surprise witnesses and evidence is a thing of the past. 

There is no standard time requirement that the prosecution needs to provide the discovery.  Each court has different time standards and there is no universal rule. In many Massachusetts courts both sides should have exchanged the necessary information by the compliance date.  However, some MA courts have ruled that discovery does not need to be completed until 4 weeks prior to trial.  Obviously, the more time that your lawyer has with the information, the more time your lawyer will have to create a stronger defense for your case. 

The Massachusetts rules of requiring the prosecutor to provide discovery and evidence is not purely intended to help defendants with building their cases.  The Massachusetts courts hope that the discovery rules and evidence will help protect the rights of all parties.  Generally, there may be certain things that you must turn over to the prosecutor.  Usually, the evidence rules will require you to turn over a list of witnesses that you intend to call to trial. 

 The Massachusetts discovery rules give you a chance to see all the evidence in the case.  It gives you a better opportunity to create a stronger defense at trial.  It also gives you a chance to assess the prosecution’s case and to determine if you want to plead to the charges. 

MA Evidence & Criminal Discovery

MA evidence and discovery you can get in a criminal case

Evidence Police

Evidence police picture taken by BinaryApe

In every Massachusetts criminal case, the prosecutor sometimes referred to as the Commonwealth in MA has certain obligations.  One obligation the Commonwealth has in a criminal case is to provide you with discovery or evidence in your case.  Ultimately, it is up to a judge to determine what type of discovery or evidence needs to be given to you.  However, in most MA criminal cases, the Commonwealth is usually required to provide certain discovery items. 

The Commonwealth does not need to help you find information that is helpful in your case.  Additionally, if certain evidence isn’t in the Commonwealth’s possession, the court will usually not require the prosecutor to get the document.  In some instances it may be helpful for you to hire an investigator to help find useful evidence to defend your case. 

In most cases, the Commonwealth is required to provide you with all the police reports pertaining to the incident.  You or your attorney can also obtain your board of probation record.  If you end up testifying at trial it may be possible for the prosecutor to use certain convictions to impeach you on the stand. 

You may also get the name, addresses, and board of probation records for all the witnesses that the Commonwealth intends to call at trial.  Depending on the case, the Commonwealth may also require to provide medical reports, DNA reports, drug certifications, photos, 911 tapes, booking videos and identification procedures if the Commonwealth intends to use these items at trial. 

The proper date to request discovery or evidence is on the pre-trial conference hearing date.  The Commonwealth is supposed to comply with the discovery or evidence request by the compliance and election date.  Ultimately, the judge will decide what evidence or discovery the Commonwealth needs to provide.