(MyFoxBoston.com/AP) – If disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan were to change her plea to guilty, her sentence would not exceed three to five years in state prison with a probationary term to follow, a judge decided Wednesday.
Following an Oct. 18 hearing, Judge Carol Ball said if Dookhan were to plead guilty, she would not sentence her to more than five years in state prison, with a probationary term to follow, without allowing Dookhan to withdraw her change of plea. Probation would be for a period of two years; however, if she is paroled short of five years, the probation would be unsupervised while she is being overseen by a parole officer.
Dookhan, 35, of Franklin, had previously pleaded not guilty to 27 criminal charges, including tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, and perjury for allegedly faking test results at a now-closed state lab.
Dookhan's lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, pleaded for leniency at an earlier date, saying Dookhan's only motivation was to be "the hardest-working and most prolific and most productive chemist." Gordon said "this whole mess" began when Dookhan failed to follow certain lab procedures in trying to test more samples.
When she got caught, she panicked and tried to cover her tracks, Gordon said.
He said she never thought her actions would send the state's criminal justice system into a "tailspin," with more than 1,100 criminal drug cases dismissed or not prosecuted because of evidence tainted by Dookhan's alleged actions and other fallout from the closure of the lab.
During the Oct. 18 hearing, prosecutors urged Judge Ball to sentence Dookhan to up to seven years in prison if she pleads guilty, calling her motives "selfish."
Additionally, prosecutors said Dookhan's alleged actions have cost the state "hundreds of millions of dollars" to try to assess the scope of the tainted evidence and to mitigate the effect on thousands of people charged with drug offenses during the nine years Dookhan worked at the lab. The court system has been deluged with motions for new trials filed by defendants who may have been affected.
State officials have estimated that Dookhan tested samples involving more than 40,000 defendants during her years at the lab.
Judge Ball took all of these recommendations into consideration when she made her decision. Ultimately, she decided Dookhan was "undone by her own ambition," but must be held accountable.
"The Commonwealth concedes that her criminal behavior was driven by nothing more than a desire to be recognized as a productive employee. On the other hand, the consequences of her behavior, which she ought to have foreseen, have been nothing short of catastrophic: innocent persons were incarcerated, guilty person have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core," Judge Ball wrote in her decision.
It is unknown when Dookhan will answer to the judge's decision.