Special court session to deal with influx of Annie Dookhan cases in Suffolk County

A special session will be held in a Boston courthouse to deal with drug cases in Suffolk County that may now be undermined by the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal, officials said today.

Superior Court Judge Christine McEvoy has been assigned to preside at the special session currently slated to run from Oct. 15 until Oct. 26, Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse said in a statement.

The hearings will deal only with cases that have originated in Suffolk County, which is composed of Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. State officials have said that Suffolk County cases likely account for the bulk of the 34,000 criminal cases that may have to be overturned in the wake of the drug lab scandal.

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Dookhan, a former state chemist, pleaded not guilty Friday in Boston Municipal Court to obstruction of justice and falsifying her academic record. She was released on $10,000 cash bail.

She allegedly admitted to State Police investigators that she mishandled drug evidence at a state lab in Jamaica Plain — removing evidence from the evidence room without signing it out, forging co-workers’ signatures on reports, and not doing proper testing on drug samples “for about two or three years.”

Dookhan also allegedly confessed that she sometimes added cocaine or heroine to samples she was testing “to make it what I said it was.”

“I messed up bad; it’s my fault,” she told investigators during an Aug. 28 interview.

In courthouses around eastern Massachusetts, because of the drug lab scandal, people who have pleaded guilty to drug charges, been convicted on drug charges, or were being held pending trial on drug charges, have been released from custody as judges have stayed prison sentences, reversed guilty pleas, or struck down cash bails that defendants could not afford to post.

State officials estimate that 1,141 convicted drug defendants may have their convictions undone because Dookhan had some role in the testing of the evidence in their cases.

The fact that a substance seized from an alleged criminal has been proven to be drugs by scientific testing is a keystone of any drug case. Law enforcement officials thus must be extremely scrupulous and painstaking about the handling of seized drugs. Otherwise, questions can arise about whether the material tested is the same material as that seized from the defendant and whether the tests performed on it were accurate.

Dookhan’s motives for her alleged misdeeds are unclear. Attorney General Martha Coakley said Friday that the only motive that has so far emerged was that Dookhan wanted to be considered a good worker at the lab.

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