According to an article on the American Civil Liberties’ website, thousands of criminal defendants impacted by the Annie Dookhan/Hinton Drug Lab scandal still have not received justice. The article states that in May 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County. The decision stated that Dookhan defendants have the right to challenge their convictions without fear of further punishment. Specifically, the ruling stated that criminal defendants who brought a motion to vacate a conviction based on Dookhan related issues could not face more serious charges, or longer sentences following the allowance of such a motion. The SJC then sent the case to SJC Justice Margot Botsford to determine how defendants would be identified and notified of their rights. Justice Botsford subsequently issued a ruling requiring state prosecutors to produce lists of Dookhan defendants. Despite her order, however, prosecutors have been slow – extremely slow – to respond. Justice Botsford held a hearing on May 11, 2016 to discuss the need to notify defendants. This past week, almost five years since Dookhan’s misconduct was uncovered, and one full year after the issuance of Bridgeman, prosecutors have finally issued the requisite lists.
The lists identify more than 24,000 drug cases in which people were convicted, or had other adverse dispositions, as a result of tainted drug testing completed by Annie Dookhan. These Dookhan cases appear to account for 25 percent of all drug prosecutions that led to convictions in the seven counties that used the Hinton State Lab during Dookhan’s tenure, and one in six of such drug prosecutions in the Commonwealth, over a 10-year period. Despite these staggering numbers, the vast majority of the defendants in these 24,000 cases have not received any official notice that Dookhan worked on their case, let alone legal representation to help them challenge their tainted convictions.
These revelations follow on the heels of a report issued last week from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, written at the request of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which found that Massachusetts is also confronted with a second enormous lab scandal arising from misconduct by chemist Sonja Farak at another state drug lab, in Amherst. According to the report, Farak used drugs daily during her eight years on the job, and her misconduct likely affects thousands more cases.
The article cites to the obvious concerns regarding the misconduct during the Dookhan-Farak Era, but also raises broader concerns. Specifically, in addition to noting the fact that Massachusetts has convicted thousands and thousands of people of drug crimes based on tainted evidence, it also calls for justice for those defendants. The article further urges Massachusetts to stop addressing drug addiction through prosecution and start helping those addicted to drugs by providing much needed treatment.
Lastly, the article also urges Massachusetts to take a more comprehensive approach to the drug lab scandals. The article states that “a case-by-case approach to this massive problem cannot serve the cause of justice or restore the integrity of our criminal justice system.” It also points to the significant logistical problem of finding and contacting the defendants in these 24,000 cases within a period of time that comports with due process rights and urges the state to take a blanket approach by simply ruling that, as a matter of course, all those convictions based on evidence handled by Annie Dookhan should be vacated.
If you or a loved one have been convicted of a drug offense in Massachsuetts in the last ten years, there is a very strong possibility that the evidence in your case was tainted by the misconduct of Annie Dookhan or Sonja Farak. You could benefit from contacting a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney to determine what relief may be available to you. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is an experienced and skilled attorney who has handled numerous motions for new trials and can help you get justice. Call him for a free consultation today.