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State's district attorneys ordered to review 20,000 drug cases possibly screwed up by disgraced state chemist

After several years of ruling on individual drug convictions possibly tainted by disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan, the Supreme Judicial Court today issued rules for dealing with the more than 20,000 remaining drug convictions she had something to do with.

Rather than continuing to hear cases on a one by one basis, foregoing any further consideration of Dookhan-related convictions or just issuing a blanket rule dismissing all the cases at once, the state's highest court directed the state's district attorneys to first conduct their own case reviews and identify cases they don't think they could win on re-trial because the case relied so heavily on certification by Dookhan that the substances used to convict people were really the drugs she said they were.

The number of cases at issue is based on lists of Dookan-related convictions compiled by the state's district attorneys at the request of the court.

After identifying the cases they wouldn't want to re-try, the DAs would then have to ask a judge to dismiss and vacate those convictions with prejudice - meaning they could not attempt to re-try the defendants.

This is essentially the standard the SJC and the Massachusetts Appeals Court have used in deciding earlier Dookhan cases: Dismissal if the justices did not think the convictions could stand up without her certification and upholding the convictions if prosecutors had enough other evidence to convict even without certification that a substance was an illegal drug.

Then, after those cases are disposed of, the remaining defendants would have to be notified their cases were not being dismissed - and given access to a state-funded public defender should they wish to consider their own individual appeals, the court ruled.

If the number seeking counsel is so large that counsel cannot be
assigned despite [the Committee for Public Counsel Service]'s best efforts, the single justice will fashion an appropriate remedy under our general superintendence authority for the constitutional violation, which may include
dismissing without prejudice the relevant drug convictions in cases where an indigent defendant is deprived of the right to counsel.

The justices continued:

The remedy we order, challenging as it is to implement, preserves the ability of these defendants to vindicate their rights through case-by-case adjudication, respects the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and maintains the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system in the wake of a laboratory scandal of unprecedented magnitude.

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Comments

Why is she not spending the rest of her life in prison?

It seems to me that she committed outrageous abuses of state power, causing many people to be convicted illegally.

Why was she given a gentle handslap?

Was it because we assume that the abuses only hurt people who somehow deserved it? And we think that gross corruption will never hurt good people like us?

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Because people who work for the government are by and large above the law.

Go look up the statistics on how often prosecutorial misconduct results in actual charges being filed against prosecutors (short answer: rarely, if ever). This is in the same vein.

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... the part where her supervisors encouraged the behavior and didn't question her.

Also the part where the workload was well beyond the number of staff members available.

Also the part where the police officials were cultivating her favor.

Read the whole story and start again. She did something criminally stupid, yes, but her supervisors liked that they didn't have to ask for more workers because their supervisors were playing the neoliberal productivity enforcement game, and the cops that loved her results on demand.

Also expect more cases like this as Charlie Baker continues to screw with numbers and demand that state agencies ignore enforcement of state laws that he finds inconvenient (like he tried to do in order to gut DEP) and lay off or force retirement of increasing numbers of workers each year.

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This decision is going to cost the taxpayers millions in lawsuits but it is the right decision.

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If Cindy Lou Who has already served her time, could she sue too?

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To think of the hours upon hours or months upon months of hard police work and work by the district attorneys that will all be nullified because of Dookhan.

Legally it's the right thing to do. But it is very hard to swallow knowing that - in all likelihood - everything was done correctly by the letter of the law by the people actually investigating, just to be ruined later.

Anyone who is released is and was guilty, drugs are easily identifiable by those that know what they are looking for. It's a shame these dangerous criminals will be let out early to have another chance to jump back into their previous activities because of a technicality.

Drugs and violence go hand in hand, I hope the news outlets continue to report when those released are inevitably again arrested for violent and/or drug crimes.

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You may well be right - most of these people are guilty and are being let out because of Dookhan. But innocent people may have gone to prison because of her callous disregard for the truth. You OK with that?

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If you were charged with possession of a controlled substance, and another crime that is not about possession of a controlled substance, and Dookhan "did" the "lab work" and you were found guilty of both, the former is premised in part on false testimony, and the second crime stands.

So what we are talking about are drug possession crimes, not other crimes like violence.

Why are we putting people in jail for taking illegal substances in the first place? Substance abuse is a health problem. Maybe we should try criminal justice reform, diversion and drug courts.

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who sold drugs, and not simply just used them. Right is right though and if a careless and/or lazy lab tech didn't do their job correctly and fairly, no punishment should stand.

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Late response Adam...

I wholeheartedly believe that there is not one innocent person caught up in the Doohkan case.

Drug certificates in court are an afterthought. People are not arrested that often for "substances resembling drugs but are not really drugs" - it's not really a thing that comes up very often.

To release or let anyone go early on, yes, a "technicality" is a shame. Drugs are drugs very obviously, lab work or not, we aren't taking about drugs broken down into a liquid and sewn into jeans like the history channel.

Anyways, keep up the good work, appreciate your hard work on this website. Despite my disagreement with your stance sometimes, you report the fact without a bias.

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I wholeheartedly believe that there is not one innocent person caught up in the Doohkan case.

Ignoring that bit where they retested some stuff and did not find any drugs in it. Of course.

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How does it take 5 years to get from the time the scandal made the news to the time the SJC came up with these guidelines?

Why was this not done within 5 weeks?

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These are not all violent criminals. There are some if not a lot with simple possession charges. Meaning amounts for personal use.

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Free them all and put them back on the streets. It would save the taxpayers' money, and it certainly wouldn't harm me any.

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