Public Safety & Justice

Convicts Affected by Drug Lab Scandal Can't be Freed by Special Magistrates, Mass. Court Rules

The state’s highest court has ruled that special magistrates appointed by the state courts do not have the authority to free convicts who claim that their cases were tainted by the state drug lab scandal.
July 23, 2013
 

The state’s highest court has ruled that special magistrates appointed by the state courts do not have the authority to free convicts who claim that their cases were tainted by the state drug lab scandal.

“A special magistrate ... does not have such authority,” the Supreme Judicial Court said in a ruling today.

As of March, the magistrates had conducted more than 900 hearings. In a “substantial number” of those cases, the defendants sought to stay the execution of their sentences, the court said.

At the same time, the court affirmed in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Francis X. Spina that judges do have the power to release the convicts.

Matthew Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the decision marked a “complete rejection” of the Essex County district attorney’s office attempt to challenge the special legal framework set up to handle cases affected by the scandal.

The court ruled that “exceptional circumstances” allowed judges to stay sentences in the cases.

“Given the ongoing investigation of misconduct at the Hinton drug lab and the uncertainty about when such investigation will be completed, the interest of justice is not served by the continued imprisonment of a defendant who may be entitled to a new trial,” the ruling stated.

Segal said he hoped the ruling would prompt judges to toss convictions that may have been won with tainted evidence.

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