In Committee for Public Counsel Services & others v. Attorney General & others, the Supreme Judicial Court announced a comprehensive remedy for the evidence tampering by Amherst state laboratory chemist Sonja Farak and for “the deceptive withholding of exculpatory evidence by members of the Attorney General’s office, who were duty-bound to investigate and disclose Farak’s wrongdoing.”
The background was as follows. In a prior decision addressing the Amherst lab scandal, Commonwealthv. Cotto, 471 Mass. 97 (2015), the SJC “remanded the matter to the Superior Court to provide the Commonwealth an opportunity to fulfil its duty to ‘learn of and disclose … any exculpatory evidence that is held by agents of the prosecution team, who include chemists working in State drug laboratories’ (citation and quotations omitted). Id. at 112, 120. On remand, on December 7, 2015, the Chief Justice of the Superior Court appointed Superior Court Judge Richard J. Carey to hear all cases arising from Farak’s misconduct. In December, 2016, Judge Carey conducted an evidentiary hearing …, after which he found that the government had vastly understated the extent of Farak’s misconduct. Moreover, he determined that two assistant attorneys general [Foster and Kaczmarek] had perpetrated a ‘fraud upon the court’ by withholding exculpatory evidence” — Farak’s mental health records, which showed that her misconduct commenced earlier than had been thought — “and by providing deceptive answers to another judge in order to conceal the failure to make mandatory disclosure to criminal defendants whose cases were affected by Farak’s misconduct. The judge determined that certain cases in which Farak had signed a certificate of drug analysis … during her employment at the Amherst lab were subject to dismissal. He found further, however, that Farak’s misconduct had not undermined testing results reported by other chemists who had been assigned to the Amherst lab during the period that Farak was employed there.” The petitioners in the present case “sought relief in the county court through a petition pursuant to G.L. c.211, §3, and G.L. c.231A, §1, claiming that” a “‘global remedy’” was required. “Following a number of hearings, the district attorneys agreed to the vacatur and dismissal of approximately 8,000 cases in which Farak had signed a drug certificate…. The single justice reserved and reported the matter to the full [SJC], and issued three questions for the parties to answer in their briefs.” The first question subsequently became moot. “The [remaining] reported questions asked: ‘2. Whether the definition of “Farak defendants” being employed by the District Attorneys in this case is too narrow; specifically, based on the material in the record of this case, whether the appropriate definition of the class should be expanded to include all defendants who pleaded guilty to a drug charge, admitted to sufficient facts on a drug charge, or were found guilty of a drug charge, if the alleged drugs were tested at the Amherst Laboratory during Farak’s employment there, regardless [of] whether Farak was the analyst or signed the certificates in their cases[;]’ [and] ‘3. Whether, as the petitioners request, the record in this case supports the court’s adoption of additional prophylactic measures to address future cases involving widespread prosecutorial misconduct, and whether the court would adopt any such measures in this case.’”
In its decision, the SJC “conclude[d] that Farak’s widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those that the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed. Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by governmental wrongdoing.” Accordingly, the Court answered the two remaining reported questions as follows. “2. The class of ‘Farak defendants’ includes all defendants who pleaded guilty to a drug charge, admitted to sufficient facts on a drug charge, or were found guilty of a drug charge, where (i) Farak signed the certificate of analysis; (ii) the conviction was based on methamphetamine and the drugs were tested during Farak’s tenure at the Amherst lab; or (iii) the drugs were tested at the Amherst lab on or after January 1, 2009, and through January 18, 2013, regardless of who signed the certificate of analysis[;] [and] 3. Prophylactic measures are appropriate based on the record in this case. We recommend that this court’s standing advisory committee on the rules of criminal procedure propose amendments to Rule 14 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure to include a Bradychecklist and any other modifications the committee believes would be beneficial, consistent with this opinion.” The Court noted that the purpose of a Bradychecklist — a reference to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) — is “to clarify the definition of exculpatory evidence.” In conclusion, the SJC remanded the case “to the county court for entry of a declaratory judgment … vacating and dismissing the drug convictions of all ‘Farak defendants.’”
If you or a loved one was convicted of a drug offense and the drugs were tested at the Amherst Lab, you may be eligible for some legal relief. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is an experienced and skilled attorney who will help you figure out what steps you can take to make sure that you have not been treated unjustly. Contact him today for a free consultation.