In the past, one of the strongest ways that a prosecutor could prove that there had been criminal wrongdoing was to use witnesses. A person or two may have seen a criminal snatching a purse and running off with it. There could have been even more witnesses. On the other hand, it was entirely possible that the witnesses were all fabricated by a shrew prosecutor in search of a win.
In more modern times, there are technologies to test to see whether a person is lying — though these technologies are not always accurate. More accurate, however, are the findings of chemists that work with the police doing DNA tests, taking samples and testing for drugs, and other similar things. A DNA test or a drug test is always completely accurate — so long as the person that is in charge of running the test is not mishandling the data.
In Massachusetts, a crime laboratory chemist was arrested for exactly this. Annie Dookhan may have tampered with as many as sixty thousand samples, causing countless people to end up in jail that may not have done anything wrong other than perhaps being in the wrong place.
More recently, the ACLU has started fighting for non-violent offenders who were linked to the allegedly criminal chemist to be released. There is no reason to keep them in jail — some might argue that even if their only crime was to own, for example, an ounce of marijuana that there should be no real reason to put them in jail in the first place. I suppose that’s a different topic for a different day.
I am somewhat concerned that the reaction of the mayor of Boston is to be concerned first and foremost with the chance that people that are inevitably going to be released will pose a threat to the city and therefore is looking to increase security. I would think that a better route to pursue, or perhaps an additional route, would be to look into job training centers to open and expand those that are already open.
What can be done to safeguard laboratory results in crime laboratories? Perhaps all results need to be checked by a second chemist, a sort of second set of eyes that verifies that all work being done is correct and that no tests are being botched intentionally. Until then we have to hope that another wicked chemist does not come along to tamper with laboratory tests that put innocent people in jail.