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August 22, 2013

Tarr revives push for crime lab reforms

Armed with new figures showing that rogue chemist Annie Dookhan was involved in tainted evidence linked to the cases of 40,323 people, State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is urging his legislative colleagues to revisit a bill he filed in January outlining new oversight provisions for the entire state crime lab system.

Special counsel David Meier confirmed Tuesday that the number of people accused of drug crimes based on faulty drug evidence through Dookhan and Department of Public Health’s Jamaica Plain crime lab has surpassed the 40,000 mark.

Dookhan’s breaches of protocol have thrown thousands of convictions into question — including more than 8,000 cases in Essex County. Among the first of the Essex County cases brought up for a review hearing was a Gloucester man’s drug charges, which were allowed to stand as found and sentenced last November.

“The fallout of the egregious actions of forensic crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan directly correlates with the lack of oversight of the state’s forensic drug labs,” Tarr said Tuesday night. “In January, I filed legislation that would instill the necessary oversight, accountability, and transparency needed to ensure a system that demands integrity.”

The bill Tarr filed would require:

Quarterly reports from the undersecretary of public safety for forensic sciences that will include, but not be limited to, information regarding:

The volume of forensic services at each facility;

The volume of forensic services of each employee at such facilities;

The costs and length of time from submission for testing or procedures and the return of results from such facilities;

Compliance with accreditation standards of such facilities; and

Facility employee records, qualifications, and incident reports.

A minimum of one public oversight hearing per year for the board to receive testimony relative to the operations of state laboratories;

A system to receive complaints or tips about potential problems at a state laboratory via telephone and e-mail;

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