MA to toss 21,000 Drug Convictions Due to Lab Fraud

Massachussetts is throwing out 21,000 drug convictions due to the lab fraud by chemist Annie Dookhan. (Background here.) Dookhan was convicted in 2013 and jailed. She was released on parole in 2016.

Most of the defendants have already served their time. Dismissal is just the first step: [more...]

Some “‘Dookhan defendants” served several years in prison, and though they are now freed, “they continued to suffer the harsh collateral consequences of their tainted convictions,” including immigration status for some, said lawyer Daniel Marx, whose firm also represented the Dookhan defendants. “Now, a majority of these wrongfully convicted individuals will have the opportunity to clear their records and move on with their lives.”

The list of dismissed cases was only the first step in redressing Dookhan cases. Next, the prosecutors must send a court-approved letter to those defendants whose cases are not dismissed, notifying them of the opportunity to reopen their cases and also providing a “hotline” phone number to public defenders for guidance. The Committee for Public Counsel Services, which appoints defense lawyers to the indigent, will be allowed to insert a separate letter providing further legal advice. A form enabling indigent defendants to apply for an appointed lawyer will also be included, and all of it must be sent with a self-addressed stamped envelope — all at the government’s expense.

“We recognize that this cost could be considerable,” Gants wrote, “but that is a consequence of egregious government misconduct that affected more than 20,000 defendants.”

The effects of a second drug lab scandal in MA are yet to be determined. Thousands more convictions may be affected by a different lab tech who admitted smoking crack and using other drugs while on the job.

Sonja Farak told investigators she smoked crack every day at work. She also took methamphetamine, amphetamine, ketamine, ecstasy and LSD, both at work and at home. And it was all free, and often extremely high quality, because Farak was a chemist at the Massachusetts crime lab in Amherst responsible for testing drugs for police departments in criminal cases across the state.

Farak’s eight-year complimentary drug buffet ended when co-workers finally noticed some missing samples in 2013, and she was arrested and convicted.

Faulty forensics is the second leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to The Innocence Project and a written statement presented by NACDL to a congressional hearing last month.

Among the reforms that Congress should implement, according to NACDL's recent statement:

  • provide a dedicated funding stream to support the existing National Commission on Forensic Science and either formally separate it from the DOJ, or ensure that it is not under the exclusive control of law enforcement,
  • establish mandatory accreditation, certification, and proficiency standards,
  • bolster the emerging culture of science and increased transparency in forensic work, and
  • enhance the support for defense attorneys commensurate with the increased prevalence and role of forensic science in criminal cases.

As usual, Jefferson Sessions gets it backwards. The Washington Post reported this week Sessions announced DOJ would not not renew the
National Commission on Forensic Science
, "a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers chartered by the Obama administration in 2013."

He also issued a memo available here effectively "suspending an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisors."

According to federal judge Jed Rakoff, the only federal judge serving on the commission:
“It is unrealistic to expect that truly objective, scientifically sound standards for the use of forensic science . . . can be arrived at by entities centered solely within the Department of Justice.”

In suspending reviews of past testimony and the development of standards for future reporting, “the department has literally decided to suspend the search for the truth,” said Peter S. Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has reported that nearly half of 349 DNA exonerations involved misapplications of forensic science. “As a consequence innocent people will languish in prison or, G-d forbid, could be executed,” he said.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Or are they part of the DOJ?

    Dookhan served two years. (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Apr 25, 2017 at 01:14:23 PM EST
    Her every victim serves a lifetime.