by Kevin Bliss
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has dismissed about 45,000 charges in more than 30,000 drug cases prosecuted in the state due to misconduct by chemists Sonja Farak of Amherst drug lab and Annie Dookhan of Hinton drug lab.
Both were found to be falsifying records. Farak was also found to be stealing drug samples to support her addiction. The Commonwealth expects to dismiss at least 13,000 more affected cases. Farak worked for Amherst for nine years but was never required to take a drug test herself. She was arrested for stealing the samples she was supposed to be testing and pleaded guilty to a series of charges in 2013. She had signed certificates stating she had tested the drugs when, in fact, she had consumed them.
Two former assistant attorneys general working under Attorney General Martha Coakley were said to have withheld evidence relating to the time frame of Farak’s misconduct, making identification of affected defendants more difficult.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) ordered the dismissal of thousands of more cases after the discovery of malfeasance by two then-assistant attorneys generals. They included all cases tested by Amherst drug lab between January 1, 2009, and January 18, 2013, as well as all cases concerning methamphetamine tested at the lab starting in August of 2004. Those cases, though, are not tied to any docket number so identification is going to be a long, case-by-case determination of which samples led to convictions. Staff attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services Rebecca Jacobstein stated that the concern is securing relief for those defendants affected. Not only were they wrongfully convicted, but many lost their licenses or received longer sentences on subsequent offenses due to these convictions or paid fines that now need to be reimbursed.
The assistant attorneys general who were responsible for the withheld evidence are now under investigation by the Board of Bar Oversees. The new Attorney General Maura Healey is working to implement new disclosure of evidence policies and evidence handling training to ensure this does not happen again. Her spokesperson Emalie Gainey said, “We are grateful to the court for its thoughtful opinion and commitment to justice for the Farak defendants. We share that commitment and welcome the role the court has given our office to help facilitate notice to impacted defendants and secure comprehensive and speedy relief. Attorney General Healey and her administration are fully committed to ensuring that the mistakes of the past never happen again.” The majority of the cases affected by Farak’s actions came from Franklin and Hampshire counties. These counties are represented by Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. He stated, “In accordance with the SJC decision, we will continue to work on identifying the affected drug cases to ensure they are dismissed in the best interests of justice.”
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