Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Senate Republican Caucus Offers Crime Lab Audit Law

Boston-  Senate Republicans today announced a bill to detect and prevent the mishandling of forensic evidence in the state’s crime laboratory.  The bill, written in the wake of more than 21,000 dismissed drug convictions connected to former state chemist Annie Dookhan, will safeguard the accuracy and integrity of lab procedures and results.

“The justice system was compromised because a so-called scientist with falsified credentials lied about her work for years.  We all want to make certain that those responsible for maintaining the integrity of criminal evidence have proper oversight,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R– Gloucester).  “Accountability and accuracy are essential in every aspect of government and we know that many people were falsely convicted of crimes and others who may have been guilty were let free.  We aim to empower state officials with the authority to conduct audits and reviews of the crime lab so that this doesn’t happen again.”

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that cases tainted by Dookhan would be dismissed or re-prosecuted.   The discredited chemist falsified her academic credentials and admitted in court to intentionally contaminating evidence in an effort to rack up higher lab results, she was convicted of 27 charges in 2013 including for perjury, obstruction of justice, and altering evidence.

The court’s action would require prosecutors to show that they could secure convictions in retrials without using evidence handled or contaminated by Dookhan.  The court’s action comes too late for some who were sentenced because they have already served out their prison terms.

“Annie Dookhan’s mishandling of criminal lab evidence was a travesty.  Investigations into her actions and her conviction brought to light serious gaps in the management and oversight within the crime lab,” said Senator Ross (R-Wrentham), ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. “A thoroughly conducted triennial review of procedures used in crime labs is necessary to take preventative measures against misconduct and abuse of the justice system.”

A 15-month investigation by Inspector General Glenn Gunha which concluded in a 2014 report found that lax lab management failed to detect the actions of Dookan.  The report identified important reforms which have been undertaken such as requiring crime lab facilities to meet national accreditation standards.

“Since the issues of evidence tainting have been identified, the State Police have assumed control of the labs and they have worked effectively to reform the way the labs operate,” said Tarr.  “The work of they are doing is commendable, and it needs to be supported with every tool available. Audits have been proven to be effective tools, and we should make sure they are done regularly because the consequences of evidence tainting are just too negative for the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

Sponsors of the bill propose requiring the Executive Office of Public Safety’s Forensic Sciences Advisory Board to initiate a comprehensive audit of all laboratories providing forensic service for the state by September 1st of this year.  The state Inspector General, in collaboration with the state Auditor, would be directed to initiate such an audit to ensure the accuracy and integrity of lab work every three years.

The Forensic Sciences Advisory Board is comprised of representatives from the District Attorneys Association, Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Commissioner of Public Health, the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists, members of bar associations, and others with expertise in forensic and biological sciences.

Senators expect the bill to gain bipartisan and bicameral support as it moves through the legislative process.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Senate Republican Caucus Acts to Protect Privacy of Internet Users

Boston-  In the wake of recent federal legislative changes allowing internet service providers to use or sell browsing history and other information collected from their customers, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and the Senate Republican Caucus are filing legislation to prevent that from happening without the customer’s consent. The bill is titled, “An Act Ensuring Internet Security and Privacy”.
On April 3, 2017, federal legislation known as “S.J. Res. 34-A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rules submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services,” became law, and as a result, regulations that had been developed by the Federal Communications Commission during the Obama Administration were prevented from going into effect. Those regulations would have prevented internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast from collecting and selling customer information without permission. Consequently, such practices are permissible and unregulated.
“The federal government has created a situation that threatens consumer privacy, and it needs to be addressed,” said Tarr. He added that, “a customer of any of these providers should have control of their personal information, and shouldn’t have to pay for that control.”
“Consumer privacy is an issue that is on the minds of many of my constituents, and it is my hope that this legislation will address their serious concerns,” said Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).
“As the reliance on web-based technology continues to extend into our day-to-day lives, preserving consumer privacy is vital,” said Senator Don Humason (R–Westfield). “This bill would provide Massachusetts residents with a protection against the sale of their personal information.”
“This bill is an important step in re-claiming the privacy rights of our constituents,” said Senator Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth). “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to safeguard our constituents and their privacy.”
“It is important we protect consumer’s privacy, and to ensure their information is not being sold to the highest bidder without their knowledge,” said Senator Ryan Fattman (R-Webster).
“This recent act of congress infringes on our basic rights to privacy, and in an age of increasing dependency on internet trade, consumers’ rights must be protected,” said Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “This bill will act as a safeguard for Massachusetts residents and their personal information.” 
The new bill, if enacted into law, would specifically prohibit the collection and dissemination of a consumer’s personal information without the written consent of the consumer. It would also prohibit any charge from being imposed on a consumer that did not provide such consent.
The bill has been filed and being offered for co-sponsorship to all members of the House and Senate.
A copy of the text of the bill can be found here: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/S2053