Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said today she plans to move to vacate all drug convictions that included substances certified as an illegal drug by the Hinton state lab in Forest Hills between May, 2003 and August, 2012, when it was shut in the wake of the Annie Dookhan scandal, which ultimately implicated a second chemist who started there, then moved her tampering ways out to another state lab in Amherst.
The move could affect up to 74,800 cases, the DA's office said, adding the DA's office will work with affected defendants to not just vacate their sentences but to formally expunge the records of the cases from the state court system's database. This work will also include trying to get reduced federal sentences for people who got convicted on federal charges and then had their sentences lengthened because of prior state convictions that involved drug testing at the facility during that period.
Following Dookhan's arrest and conviction, then Suffolk DA Dan Conley moved to rescind 7,800 cases where evidence was certified by Dookhan or the other chemist, Sonja Farak. Earlier, the Supreme Judicial Court had held that Dookhan-touched evidence would only work to reverse a sentence if the drug evidence was critical to a conviction. Rollins's move would affect all cases where drug evidence was tested at the lab, regardless of its importance to a case or if Dookhan or Farak had signed off on it.
The move was announced in a filing in which the DA's office agreed to a new trial for a man convicted on drug charges in 2009. A state chemist who was never implicated in the Dookhan case handled the evidence there, but prosecutors said that even though they have no reason to doubt the particular chemist's work, the tampering was so pervasive, more needs to be done than simply working to get some defendants new trials:
The time has come to fully address the impact of systemic misconduct in the Hinton Lab. In doing so, the Commonwealth embraces the high standard that our Constitution requires…It may never be early enough to address such egregious and systemic misconduct, but it is never too late to rectify the injustice suffered by so many individuals. The Commonwealth, therefore, intends to collaborate with the defense bar to identify a global resolution for any controlled substance conviction resulting from any analysis conducted at the Hinton Lab between May 1, 2003 and August 30, 2012.
In a statement, Rollins said:
We will convene a summit next month to begin identifying individual defendants, reviewing the cases, and determining next steps. After years of litigation, this is an important step toward restoring trust and faith in the criminal legal system. By working together with our courtroom partners, today we no longer rely on potentially falsified or fabricated evidence, and finally declare what we should have over a decade ago, that the abject and systemic mismanagement of the Hinton Lab has rendered anything produced there inherently suspect.
The DA's office estimates it has already spent some $30 million in total cleaning up after the mess left by Dookhan and Farak, who did most of her tampering after she left Jamaica Plain for another state lab in Amherst.