State Forensic Chemist Causes Thousands of Falsified Drug Convictions

A state forensic chemist out of Massachusetts fabricated positive tests, leading to thousands of falsified drug convictions.

Playing with the freedom of others

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Annie Dookhan, a state forensic chemist who worked for the state of Massachusetts for several years until her arrest in 2013 admitted that over the course of her employment, she had sent back tens of thousands of drug tests with positive results that had either not been tested or had been falsified to product a positive test. She was convicted of tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, and perjury and served. She has since been released after serving half of her five year sentence while those she helped convict are just now seeing the light of freedom.

Free again

More than 21,000 drug convictions in the state of Massachusetts were dismissed following Dookhan’s arrest and those falsely accused were finally released from prison. Unfortunately, many of those falsely imprisoned had already spent several years behind bars prior to Dookhan’s arrest and after while the prosecution worked feverishly to keep as many imprisoned as possible. Although 21,000 individuals are no longer facing drug charges thanks to the high court of Massachusetts, their lives, including personal relationships and employment, may be forever damaged following being falsely imprisoned.

Not a one-time crime

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Dookhan isn’t the only state appointed forensic chemist to toy around with the freedom of others by altering test results. A few others include:

• Another Massachusetts forensic chemist named Sonja Farak was prosecuted the same year as Dookhan for stealing drugs from the lab she was employed at and using those drugs while working. Thousands of cases were tainted by the trusted chemist who was working while high.

• Joyce Gilchrist was another forensic chemist out of Oklahoma who, like Dookhan, tampered with evidence leading to false positive DNA test results.

• Kamalkant Shan, a lab tech who was released from his job at the State of New Jersey Police Laboratory in 2016 was caught officially recording that drugs had been tested when they hadn’t.

• In 2016 a forensic chemist working for the Utah Department of Public Safety was arrested for sexual crimes against children. Although none of his crimes occurred at his place of employment, it could show him unreliable to produce honest work, leaving many cases to be questioned.

The above names are just a few of several state employed workers who, of their own accord, may have had a hand in placing innocent persons behind bars.

Incentive for state forensic chemists

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Although no one is exactly sure why state forensic chemists such as Dookhan tampered with evidence, the incentive could be nothing more than exceeding their quota. Dookhan was seen as an exceptional employee by returning three times the amount of drug tests than other chemists do on average. While Dookhan wasn’t reward monetarily beyond her annual six-figure income, the fame and acknowledgement from coworkers and supervisors may have been enough to drive her to over-succeed. Another possible reason for falsifying test results could be pure laziness. Performing the same tests, day in and day out may get repetitive and tedious. Perhaps those who chose to “dry-lab”, or produce test results without performing a tests, failed to perceive a major concern to cut corners on testing as the tests appeared insignificant to ensure a guilty verdict. For whatever reason, forensic chemists should be upheld to a higher standard since they are partly responsible for the freedom or imprisonment of others. In order to ensure that, laboratories that are funded by federal or state governments should be properly accredited.

Don’t rely on drug tests

Many of those convicted ended up admitting guilt after having their test results come back positive. When faced with what should be hard evidence, the wisest choice may appear to plead guilty and take a plea deal if possible. This is a decision that is best dealt with while being supported by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Utah Boating Laws

Before Utah residents flock to reservoirs and lakes to cool off from the scorching summer temperatures, they should be informed of current boating laws in order to avoid tickets or criminal charges.

Oasis in the desert

Photo by: Esther Lee

Utah is unique in the way it handles its lakes and reservoirs. Instead of divvying up the beachfront property and selling it to the highest bidders as other states do, the State of Utah has instead created several public parks for all Utah residents and guest to enjoy. Most, if not all of these bodies of water have boat access points which allow visitors to experience the water away from the beach. According to a boating map by The Utah Department of Natural Resources, there are 32 different areas on lakes and reservoirs in Utah where watercraft is permitted.

Boating laws in Utah

While operating water on Utah waters is open to the public with a small entrance fee, the Department of Natural Resources reminds residents that there are boating laws and regulations that must be followed to ensure all lake-goers are legal, educated, and safe. Some of the basics are:

Photo by: Ozzy Delaney

• Registration and education. All watercraft with a motor or sail must have current registration on board the vessel when in use with the decals located on the front half of the boat on either the port or starboard side. Those operating boats should attend education courses although the classes are required only for PWC operators 12-17 years of age.

• Lifejackets. Everyone is encouraged to use a lifejacket when on a boat, but for those 12 and under, coast guard approved life jackets are mandatory. Lifejackets are also required for anyone using jet skis, or being pulled by a boat on skis, wakeboards, or floatable devices.

• Equipment. Depending on the boat size, there are required equipment items that should be on board including: fire extinguishers, throwable floatation device, lights, registration and insurance, as well as other items that can be viewed at stateparks.utah.gov.

• Drunk boating. Driving drunk is against the law whether or not the person is driving a car or a boat. While alcohol is allowed on board unlike in a vehicle, the person operating the boat should refrain from alcohol consumption to avoid criminal charges.

• Passengers in the boat. Anyone in the boat should be sitting down inside the boat when the boat is creating wake and not on the bow decking or other areas where they could fall out or obstruct the view of the driver.

Photo by: Philms

• Individuals being pulled by the boat on water skis, etc are only permitted during daylight hours and must be observed by an individual other than the driver who is eight years and older. That observer must have 1 square foot orange flag ready to display when the person being towed is no longer in motion.

• Speed limits. A boat must be idle if in a non-wake area or if within 150 feet of “another boat, a person in the water, a water skier, shore angler, launch ramp, dock, or other designated swimming areas.”

• Stay at the scene. In the case of an accident, boaters should treat it just as they would a road vehicle accident. Exchange information, help the other boaters and passengers, and call law enforcement if the accident is serious enough to produce injury, death, or property damage above a $2000 value.

• Department of Natural Resources also instructs boaters to watch the weather and be aware of passengers near the back of the boat who may be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or propeller injury.

Counsel for boating crimes

Criminal charges accrued while boating are no different than those on land. BUI (boating under the influence), boating without registration or insurance, reckless endangerment, or automobile homicide are all serious charges that those operating boats could face. It is imperative to seek legal counsel should any charges occur while boating. For a full list of all boating laws and regulations, visit the Utah State Parks Division online.

How Using Speech Imitation Software Wrong Could Get a Person Thrown in Jail

There is new speech imitation software being created that is making voice cloning easier to do while sounding more realistic. Users beware: certain uses of speech imitation could get a person thrown in jail.

Speech recognition

Speech Imitation

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Speech recognition is used by millions of Americans every day. Those from older generations who are not savvy on texting may use speech to easily send messages for them. Others frequently use Siri, Alexa, Samsung’s new Bixby, and Google Assistant to ask questions, get directions, order items, and otherwise include these AI assistants to have an active part in their technological lives. These systems are created to recognize a user’s voice and even adjust to better understand voice patterns. After correctly understanding the user’s speech, these AI assistants answer back in their semi-robotic tones, even going as far as to crack a few AI jokes. Now the speech recognition and computer speaking capabilities have gone to an entirely new level by speaking back to us in our own voices.

Speech imitation software

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There have been a few different types of speech imitation software on the market, however none of them compare to what the company Lyrebird is creating. Using AI technology, the Canadian company Lyrebird uses a mere 60 second recording of a person’s voice in order to generate thousands of words and phrases. The troubling difference between these older versions of speech imitation software and those produced by Lyrebird, is the voices produced by Lyrebird sounds more realistic, losing the robotic sounds of other AIs. Already on the heels of Lyrebird are other advanced speech imitation software such as VoCo by Adobe, CandyVoice, and VivoText which plans on letting users choose the level of emotion portrayed through the imitated speech.

Illegal uses of the software

Now that this near flawless speech imitation software is here, imitating the speech of people could give user’s hours of entertainment; however it can also come with legal repercussions as well.

• If speech imitation is used to “expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule” and the person “knowingly communicate[d] to any person orally or in writing any information which he knows to be false” as is stated in Utah Code 76-9-404, the person using the voice cloning technology could end up with a class B misdemeanor charge for criminal defamation.

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•Speech imitation software could be used to commit identity fraud. Many security measures use other means of protection besides a password. This can include iris or fingerprint scanners as well as facial recognition or voice bio-metrics security software. Voice cloning could open doors for criminals to obtain private information about others or to gain access to otherwise secured accounts. According to Utah Code 76-6-1102, identity fraud is either a third or second degree felony, depending on “the value of the credit, goods, services, employment, or any other thing of value”.

• One crime that can arise from speech imitation software is impersonation of an officer. Whether done as a joke to scare a friend or for more malicious intent, pretending to be an officer in person or by voice can result in charges. Utah Code 76-8-512 states those guilty of impersonating an officer will face class B misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

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• One of the most malevolent ways speech imitation software could be used is by making it sound like someone admitted to committing a crime. If used this way, the person whose voice was imitated may be the one facing criminal charges. Since voice recordings may be used in court unless there is a lack of predicate, an imitated recording of someone confessing to a crime could mean the difference between whether or not someone goes to jail for a crime they didn’t commit.

• All the criminal charges detailed above can also be accompanied by civil charges brought on by the individuals who were victimized by the speech imitation.

Imitate responsibly

As with any technology, users should always follow the guidelines that would accompany speech imitation software and refrain from using the software illegally. For more information on legal ramifications of speech imitation, contact a criminal defense attorney.