Up here in the Commonwealth (God save it!), we once had in the public employ a brave warrior in the war on drugs named Annie Dookhan. Annie was a chemist in the state drug laboratory. Annie was very good at her job. Prosecutors loved her, some admittedly more than others. Annie loved her work, so much so that, when the war on drugs needed a boost, Annie allegedly gave it one. Annie, the brave warrior in the war on drugs, is currently on trial for faking the results in many of the 34,000 drug cases she handled in the lab. This has resulted in over 150 prisoners already being freed. This has not had universally good results. And, as it turns out, Annie Dookhan was not alone in her personal war on drugs.
More than a year ago, the Department of Public Safety knew it had a problem. It discovered, purely by accident, that an analyst at its forensics lab in Houston had falsified the results of a drug test. DPS retested 100 of his cases and found two more errors. That was pretty bad. The lab technician, Jonathan Salvador, had worked there since 2006 and handled evidence from almost 5,000 cases from 36 Texas counties. DPS suspended Salvador and sent a letter alerting prosecutors and district attorneys, and listing which of their cases Salvador had processed. “We believe it prudent to review his entire body of work,” the lab manager wrote in April 2012. “We are sorry for any inconvenience.”
This also has not had universally good results.
In June the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction of Leroy Coty, who pleaded guilty to possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine in 2010 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Coty’s case was important because the Harris County district attorney had videotapes of Coty with drugs and other evidence that almost certainly could have convicted him without Salvador’s lab results. If any case was going to survive being handled by Salvador’s, it was Coty’s. It didn’t. The first Salvador-tainted convictions overturned by the appeals court were those in which all the evidence was destroyed during testing. Since an estimated 25 to 50 percent of Salvador’s cases had no surviving evidence, prosecutors knew right away that they’d be freeing a lot of guilty people-and likely had jailed some innocent ones. Most DAs took steps to notify affected defendants and allocated resources to handle the coming waves of habeas corpus writs. Then they set about retesting any leftover evidence.
We are now into the fourth decade of the spectacular failure that is our war on drugs and, as a country, we cannot even have a serious discussion of reforming the idiotic laws banning marijuana, let alone discuss the more serious issues of this epic national fk-up. One of these is how the war on drugs has warped the criminal justice system in so many profound ways that Annie Dookhans and Jonathan Salvadors became inevitable. From confiscation laws to no-knock warrants to the general militarization of local police departments, the lust for convictions in the war on drugs has resulted in all manner of corruption, from the purely monetary to a contempt for civil liberties that bled easily into the war on terror and, I would argue, has a lot to do with the developing surveillance state that the war on terror threw into hyperdrive.
– Read the entire article at Esquire.