Sprinkle, Sprinkle, Little Star
What Annie did at the Massachusetts state crime lab makes the point better than any thoroughly written, thoughtfully researched, report by the National Institutes of Science. Annie makes clear that no science, not even real science, is any better than the human who does it. From HuffPo:
Chemist Annie Dookhan was "Superwoman," a colleague at a Massachusetts state crime lab used to joke. She seemed unstoppable in her quest to please prosecutors, police and her bosses, testing two to three times more drug samples than anyone else, working through lunch and not bothering to put in for overtime.
"The kind of person, if you owned your own business, you would want to hire her," a supervisor would later tell police.
Aside from faking her credentials, she faked the tests. Some she just didn't bother with, some she "dry labbed," which apparently means she just looked at a substance and decided it was narcotics. She made up weights, didn't calibrate equipment, and worst of all, sprinkled real drugs onto substances when there were no drugs to be had. A star.
The litany of wrongs is comical, not because they should make anyone laugh but because they were so laughable.
As early as 2008, a supervisor noticed Dookhan's testing numbers were high. He spoke to her superior, but nothing happened. In 2009, the supervisor took his concerns to another superior, saying he never saw Dookhan in front of a microscope.
In 2010, a supervisor did an audit of Dookhan's paperwork but didn't retest any of her samples. The audit found nothing wrong. The same year, a fellow chemist found seven instances where Dookhan incorrectly identified a drug sample as a certain narcotic when it was something else. He told himself it was an honest mistake.
In one incident detailed by state police, a lab employee witnessed Dookhan weighing drug samples without doing a balance check on her scale.
Dookhan was handling a staggering number of samples. An average chemist could test 50 to 150 samples a month, but Dookhan was doing more than 500, according to monthly reports, a lab employee told police later.
And her supervisors knew it. Her co-workers knew it. They may have come up with excuses why her mistakes may not have been deliberate, but they knew it all along. They just shut their eyes tight and went on with their business, making sure defendants were convicted.
People are funny. When they see something that stinks, but stinks in a way that produces results they like, they play whatever mental games they have to in order to rationalize the problem away. They believe in the results, which reminds us again of why crime labs have become such a cesspool for error. They consider themselves an adjunct of the prosecution, not a neutral agency whose only purpose is to perform scientific testing. They are part of the machinery of conviction, and are not only expected to do their part, but want to do their part. They want to be proud of the fact that their work puts bad guys away.
The law adores science. Prosecutors and judges may not really understand much about it, which is how we ended up as lawyers rather than doctors, but we embrace the notion of science because it brings a sense of precision and exactitude to our otherwise fuzzy world. It's an issue precluder, conclusively determining facts as facts and thus removing them from the mix of variables that could be in doubt.
Wrap up a ham sandwich in scientific mumbo-jumbo and we'll eat it up. For years, lawyers stipped to the chemists findings, even before the prosecution was required to put the warm body on the stand, because there wasn't much to do with them. They would recite all the tests they did and how that proved a substance was evil. It was all very perfunctory and official sounding. It's not like you would get Annie on the stand to testify that she "dry labbed" the sample and never actually did the tests at all.
And this is with the good forensic science, the real stuff. Not the bite marks, the duct tape, bullets, fingerprints or even Cokie, the beloved drug dog. This is the stuff, like DNA, which has an actual scientific basis. But none of it is actual science unless it's performed properly, subject to scientific method, by people who don't lie and contort, contaminate samples and "sprinkle" when the sample comes up empty.
There will be no shortage of hand-wringing over the disaster Annie has caused. Now, despite the fact that it could have been nipped in the bud, they have over 60,000 samples she tested, plus however many she signed off on forging other chemists initials which basically puts every test every done at risk, they have a problem.
People will walk, as well they should. Good people and bad people alike will walk. Whether this will make any prosecutor, judge or juror think twice about the efficacy of scientific, even good science, in that anything that involves the variable of a human being is never as perfect as it seems. After all, this isn't the first crime lab fiasco, and yet the gatekeepers continue to compartmentalize the disasters as isolated instances, one after another.
That there was an Annie Dookhan working in the Massachusetts crime lab can be chalked up to one bad apple. That no one figured out that she was doing the dirty when her supervisor never saw her in front of a microscope, however, can't. That there were doubts for years and no one ever mentioned it, as in Brady for example, while lawyers faced irrefutable scientific proof in court that foreclosed any further hard thought about the scientific evidence, there was a whole system at work covering up for Annie's 500 samples per month output of eyeballing white powder and proclaiming it cocaine, all to please the police and be a laboring oar in their vital mission to convict.
Yet the law, and the courts, still love science. It's one less thing to fight about.