MA Court to Consider Tossing 24K Drug Convictions

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Before Massachusetts discovered in 2013 that a chemist in its state crime lab was actually using the drugs she was testing, it uncovered another chemist in 2012 who admitted she had been falsifying some drug testing results for eight years. Both chemists were arrested, pleaded guilty, and served prison time, reports the Washington Post. What should happen to the tens of thousands of cases processed by Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan? In Dookhan’s case, prosecutors said her test results were involved in more than 24,000 convictions. The number of Farak cases has not been determined but is likely to be high. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Massachusetts public defender are asking that, in light of the failed war on drugs and the damage these cases have already done to mostly low-level drug users, all 24,000 of the Dookhan-related convictions should be thrown out.

No way, say the prosecutors in the eight counties around Boston where Dookhan handled evidence. They want each case individually reviewed, saying that Dookhan was rarely the sole source of evidence against a defendant. They say they have already processed about 1,500 cases from defendants who came forward after news of Dookhan’s misconduct emerged, and there’s no need for a blanket amnesty. It’s another blow to the crime lab business, reeling from federal criticism of long-trusted sciences like bullet and tread analysis and reports of sloppy work at the FBI crime lab. Temperatures rose further when Massachusetts prosecutors sent out a mass form letter to 20,000 defendants, over the state public defender’s strong objection and after a request from a Supreme Judicial Court justice “that the letter not be sent before we have a hearing.” The letter told defendants that they had the right to challenge their convictions and could not face any greater punishment than already received. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments from both sides next month.

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