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The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct
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Petition Asks Massachusetts High Court to Dismiss 18,000 Drug Convictions Tainted by Chemist Who Falsified Results

by Derek Gilna

The Committee for Public Counsel Services, Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, Inc., American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (“ACLUM”), and two individuals who were convicted in cases that now-discredited state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak worked on filed a petition with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The petition requests the court “to vacate and dismiss with prejudice the wrongful convictions of all Farak Defendants [defendants in approximately 18,000 cases she worked on while under the influence of drugs], and for the entry of appropriate declaratory and other relief.”

According to the ACLUM, while working as a state chemist in the Amherst lab, Sonja Farak tested evidence, manufactured drugs, stole samples, and falsified test results all while under the influence almost daily for eight years, throwing approximately 18,000 drug cases into question. Farak was finally arrested and fired from her position in 2013. Exacerbating her shocking breach of public trust is the fact the Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) misrepresented the length and extent of her misconduct, according to the petition. The AGO’s behavior denied many defendants convicted as a result of Farak’s work a meaningful opportunity to challenge their conviction because many were never even notified that their case was affected.

When state prosecutors file charges against criminal defendants, they do so in the name of the people of their jurisdiction, so it is their sacrosanct responsibility to follow both the law and the ethical canons of their profession. The prosecution wields terrifying power. Largely unchecked, it can bring the full weight of the state down upon a defendant. This includes a highly sophisticated taxpayer-funded criminal justice infrastructure comprising, among other things, entire investigative agencies and an army of forensic experts. That is why it is absolutely essential for the state to conscientiously follow the rules if criminal defendants are to receive even a semblance of a fair trial.   

The petitioners accuse various members of the Massachusetts crime lab and AGO of knowingly subverting the law together with their professional duty and then attempting to conceal that subversion from the public in connection with Farak’s tainted work. 

Government attorneys in criminal cases often attempt to categorize activities of the accused that they consider to be criminal behavior as a “scheme,” so the activities of these rogue prosecutors and state employees should similarly be characterized as a “scheme.” Accordingly, the petition asserts that the wide-ranging misconduct by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires the dismissal of 18,000 tainted drug cases upon which Farak worked.

“Doing right by the victims of the drug lab scandal is critical to restoring the integrity of the criminal justice system and an important step toward addressing the criminalization of substance abuse,” said ACLUM Executive Director Carol Rose.

Further compounding the drug lab fiasco is serious prosecutorial misconduct chronicled in the petition.  It states: “Although it has been more than four years since Farak’s arrest, the Commonwealth has shirked its obligations to identify the wrongfully convicted defendants, to notify those defendants of the egregious government misconduct that tainted their cases, and to provide them with meaningful opportunities for post-conviction relief. And although it has been almost three years since senior officials in the Attorney General’s Office were informed that Assistant Attorneys General had misled defense counsel, deceived the Superior Court, and failed to correct the record before this Court, the Commonwealth has not righted these wrongs.”

In June 2017, Judge Richard J. Carey of Hampden County Superior Court ruled that two former prosecutors, Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster, who worked on cases Farak handled, intentionally concealed documents and made misrepresentations to a fellow judge. Judge Carey wrote that their behavior “constitutes a fraud upon the court.” He continued his blistering opinion, adding “Their intentional and deceptive actions ensured that justice would certainly be delayed, if not outright denied, and in the process, they violated their oaths as assistant attorneys general and officers of the court.”

It is important to understand that cases of prosecutorial misconduct involve more than just violation of public trust and professional oaths. Defendants are the ones most directly affected by prosecutorial misconduct. They are denied their constitutional right to a fair trial, and all-too-often, have their freedom taken away as a result. Even if the wrong done to them is subsequently fixed, they can never get those years of their life back that were wrongfully stolen from them. Additionally, their families are very often forgotten victims of prosecutorial misconduct, because they have had their loved ones taken away from them. 

Herschelle Reaves, one of the petitioners and victim of the Farak/AGO scandal, summed it up perfectly when he observed, “It’s not fair that the criminal justice system spends so much time and money punishing people who suffer from the disease of addiction, when it doesn’t hold its own officials accountable for truly terrible actions.” The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is now presented with an opportunity to hold government officials accountable for some truly terrible actions and provide redress to those wronged by them. 

Sources: www.aclum.org, www.bostonglobe.com, www.slate.com

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