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Binge-worthy docuseries explores dark side of drug crime labs

| Mar 20, 2020 | Criminal Justice |

Stuck at home, millions of Americans are turning to streaming services as their new nightlife. It’s good timing for true crime and docudrama fans. Netflix has a new docuseries exploring a critical vulnerability in the justice system: crime lab technicians “breaking bad.”

Premiering April 1st, “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” follows a Massachusetts crime lab chemist who became addicted to the drugs she handled on the job. Sonja Farak started pilfering street drugs from the crime lab in 2004. Her addiction quickly escalated. She was constantly high, taking hits a dozen times a day – including in the crime lab restroom. She even used the lab equipment to cook crack.

How she did it

Farak wasn’t exactly a criminal mastermind. She would sneak samples from the drugs she was testing and use ersatz powder to make up the missing volume. The crime lab was chaotic and mismanaged enough that her misdeeds went unnoticed for nine years, until she was finally arrested for evidence tampering in 2013. Over the course of her career, Farak put an estimated 10,000 defendants behind bars.

A slew of wrongful convictions

It was the largest law enforcement scandal in state history, but it wasn’t the first time that lab chemists had falsified results on a shocking scale. Just a year earlier, in 2012, another Massachusetts crime lab chemist was arrested for blatantly faking positive drug test results. The two weren’t connected – this one’s motivation was vigilantism rather than addiction – but together, the rogue chemists were responsible for an estimated 32,000 wrongful convictions.

The scandal deepens

The story doesn’t stop there. Despite the obvious ripple effects of Farak’s actions – and its implications for thousands of people behind bars – the Attorney General engaged in a massive coverup. Farak spent a mere 13 months in jail. Only later, after two criminal defense lawyers fought tirelessly to expose the scandal, did the full extent of wrongdoing finally come to light.

What else is lurking in the dark corners of the justice system?

While the show focuses on one particular scandal, it has broad implications for the criminal justice system as a whole. It brings into question the way many states (and federal law) deal with substance abuse, locking addicts away for lengthy prison sentences rather than treating the underlying problem. And it raises an alarming question: What other law enforcement scandals or prosecutorial misconduct have gone undetected – and are perhaps still going on?

We may never know.

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