News that Attorney General Martha Coakley has called upon Governor Deval Patrick to appoint an independent investigator to conduct a broader review of the policies, practices, and oversight of the Hinton drug lab and its drug analysis unit is a great first step toward getting to the bottom of the drug lab scandal.
It's also a smart move by Coakley. Remember: she didn't ask to lead this investigation in the first place. Rather, she agreed to do so at the request of the Governor and because she's the state's top law enforcement officer.
But however unimpeachable the Office of the Attorney General, to expedite an incontrovertible resolution to this crisis and fully restore public confidence in our criminal justice system, this investigation must be--and must be seen to be--independent, credible, and beyond reproach. To that end, Coakley was right to ask the Governor to appoint an investigator who is unencumbered by any real or potential conflict of interest.
Appropriately resolving the scandal will require ascertaining not only which cases are tainted, but also how they are tainted. E-mails publicly divulged to the Boston Globe a few days ago show that at least one prosecutor allegedly had repeated inappropriate communications with chemist Annie Dookhan. These communications--and the sheer volume of tainted tests and fact that the practice continued for years--suggest that the scandal may be bigger than just a single "rogue" chemist. Indeed, a credible investigation must, at a minimum, look into possible violations of protocol by other lab employees, prosecutors, and other law enforcement personnel.
To do that, an independent investigator must have complete control over the investigation's scope, taking it wherever the facts lead. Most importantly, the investigator should be given all resources, including subpoena power, to fully and thoroughly do the job.
Only a truly independent and fully empowered investigation will restore the public's confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system, which has been profoundly shaken by this crisis.
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