Why 20,000 Convictions Are Being Thrown Out in Massachusetts
By Gintautas Dumcius
Tainted by former Massachusetts chemist Annie Dookhan, thousands of drug cases are set to be dismissed.
Advocates for the dismissal of the tainted cases, including the ACLU of Massachusetts, said they expect it to become the "single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in the nation's history."
State district attorneys in seven Massachusetts counties on Tuesday were filing lists of drug cases they plan not to prosecute as a result of Dookhan's falsification and fabrication of evidence.
The seven counties are Suffolk, Essex, Bristol, Middlesex, Plymouth, Norfolk and Cape & Islands.
The moves set a legal precedent in the ongoing case of a separate state crime lab chemist, Sonja Farak, who potentially tainted thousands of drug cases in Western Massachusetts.
Farak admitted to stealing cocaine she was tasked with testing. There is no current public list of Farak cases, advocates said.
Dookhan worked at the Hinton State Laboratory, a state Department of Public Health drug-testing facility in Boston. Her job was to test substances seized by police, and when state officials uncovered her role in tainting the cases, Dookhan went to prison and was paroled in 2016.
Around 95 percent of Dookhan cases are expected to be dismissed, according to the ACLU of Massachusetts. The organization had pushed for a blanket dismissal.
The organization demanded five years ago the dismissal of the tainted cases. "That demand was ignored by district attorneys," said Carl Williams, the ACLU staff attorney.
Prosecutors say they were proactive.
But the ACLU and other organizations filed a lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of three individuals whose cases were tainted by Dookhan, which led to the state's Supreme Judicial Court in January ordering the district attorneys to make a lists of cases that should be dismissed and should be re-prosecuted. The number of cases for re-prosecution is expected to be small, around 500 or 600, according to the ACLU of Mass.
Suffolk County, anchored by Boston, has a large number of the cases expected to be dismissed. The office of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said they are moving to dismiss the cases of 7,500 defendants and 15,570 drug convictions.
Conley said in a statement that his office had already moved to release the defendants held on bail and serving sentences based just on Dookhan's analysis, and if there had been any evidence the other defendants had been innocent, they would "not have hesitated to dismiss the case outright."
"Importantly, none of the defendants whose cases were dismissed today is serving a committed sentence solely on a Dookhan-related drug conviction," Conley's office said. "Few, if any, who were charged only with low-level, non-violent drug offenses served even a single day behind bars."
But some of the people whose cases are being dismissed have already lost jobs and their homes, or have been deported, according to ACLU attorneys.
And a $30 million reserve fund for handling the fallout from the Dookhan scandal has already been exhausted, they added.
Conley's office is focusing its re-prosecution efforts on 117 defendants.
"The average defendant has more than 60 entries on his record," Conley said in his statement. "When given the opportunity for rehabilitation in a community setting, these defendants have violated probation an average of seven times each. They are neither low-level nor non-violent, and they stand at the intersection of drugs and violence."
According to the Associated Press, Bristol County Thomas Quinn is moving to dismiss more than 1,500 cases and maintain 112 convictions.
The Middlesex County District Attorney's office said they were dismissing all but nine remaining cases for re-prosecution. That comes out to 4,351 charges dismissed or approximately 3,000 defendants.
"These cases were identified in close collaboration with our local police departments and are Superior Court cases involving serious drug offenses, where sufficient independent evidence remains available for retesting," Marian Ryan, the district attorney, said in a statement.
The numbers from the other counties were expected to come in late Tuesday afternoon.
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