In 2012, a Department of Public Health state laboratory came under fire after one of its employees, Annie Dookhan, allegedly falsified evidence that was used in drug cases. The investigation into Dookhan led to 534 cases being reviewed and over 300 inmates being released from Massachusetts state prisons. Now another lab, the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst, is at the center of controversy.
Sonja Farak, an employee at the Amherst laboratory, has been charged with tampering with four drug samples. Farak allegedly stole drugs from two of the evidence samples and mixed in counterfeit drugs to mask her theft. In another two cases, the samples were nowhere to be found. In addition, Farak has been charged with possession of cocaine.
Even though only four instances of tampering have been discovered thus far, these charges call into question every sample that Farak has ever handled. According to Massachusetts criminal defense attorney Josh Lee, “such an individual is not going to be concerned with good laboratory practices or proper evidence handling and testing”, raising serious doubts about the integrity of other samples that she handled.
Dookhan and Farak’s tampering demonstrate several problems with crime labs. When laboratories are under the control of a police department, there is no independent oversight to ensure that cases are handled in a professional and legal manner. Some argue that all activity in forensic labs should be videotaped in order to prevent tampering and mishandling of evidence. Others believe that tampering in crime labs is a rare occurrence and not a cause for concern. Since Farak’s arrest, 11 individuals serving sentences for drug crimes have petitioned for temporary release due to Farak being involved in their cases.