Boston Scandal Exposes BacklogOct 09, 2012
By Eugenie Samuel Reich
The numbers are shocking: 1,100 people are in jail on the basis of evidence that may have been tampered with, and 34,000 criminal cases could be affected. The fallout stems from the work of just one forensic chemist, who is alleged to have faked test results on suspected drug samples.
The revelations and the subsequent arrest on September 28 of Annie Dookhan, who worked at a state-run laboratory in Boston, Mass., have rattled the US forensics community and raised questions about oversight across the profession. Nature has learned that the facility had applied for federal funding to help to clear a backlog of some 8,000 cases — a full year’s work. The situation parallels that of overburdened forensic labs across the United States.
“If you think this couldn’t happen in your lab, you’re naive,” says Robin Cotton, director of the forensic-sciences program at Boston Univ. and a former forensic-lab director. “Lab directors all over the country are paying attention.” Cotton and others say that the affair highlights a resourcing problem that is putting pressure on US forensic-lab workers and their supervisors, who need to bring cases to court fast, but without compromising the integrity of test results.