UPDATE: On October 11, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court delivered an historic victory to thousands of people who were wrongfully convicted based on tainted evidence and prosecutorial misconduct. Following at least 9,000 dismissals earlier this year, the court has now acknowledged that thousands more people were denied justice.
Thousands of people still do not know that they were impacted by the state's misconduct. The court's decision requires the Attorney General's Office to notify every person who was wrongfully convicted, and changes how prosecutors are required to reveal evidence.
Almost every day for eight years, state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak manufactured drugs, stole samples, and tested evidence while under the influence, throwing thousands of drug cases into question.
But the Amherst drug lab scandal doesn’t stop there.
After Farak’s arrest in 2013, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) claimed her misconduct lasted under five months. All the while, they had crucial evidence showing that the misconduct was more severe. That means thousands of people were convicted based on bad evidence—and the AGO hid that information from them and the courts.
Since then, thousands of defendants affected by misconduct at the Amherst lab have been kept in the dark about what happened and denied any meaningful chance at a remedy for their wrongful convictions.
On September 20, 2017, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and law firm Fick & Marx LLP, filed a petition urging the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to dismiss every case in which Farak was the state's chemist. The petition calls for the dismissals due not only to Farak's wrongdoing but also the AGO's misconduct. It also asks the court to establish rules to prevent this type of prosecutorial misconduct.
The plaintiffs in this case are CPCS, Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, and two individuals who were convicted of drug crimes in cases where Farak served as the state’s chemist.
The individuals, Herschelle Reaves and Nicole Westcott, are two of perhaps thousands of defendants who were denied any timely and meaningful opportunity to challenge their convictions because the AGO misrepresented the duration and extent of Farak’s misconduct.
This case follows ACLU’s major victory in April 2017, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its final order to dismiss nearly 22,000 wrongful drug convictions that had been tainted by former state chemist Annie Dookhan. That was the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in the nation’s history.
In November 2017, following an order from Supreme Judicial Court Justice Gaziano, district attorneys agreed to dismiss more than 6,000 cases. Justice Gaziano officially dismissed additional cases on April 5, 2018. The case will continue on to the full Supreme Judicial Court in mid-2018.
- Boston Globe: State could pay ‘north of $10 million’ to reimburse defendants in drug lab scandals
- Boston Globe: SJC considers tossing out 11,000 more drug cases
- WBUR: Mass. High Court Considers Fining AG's Office In Drug Lab Case
- ABC News: Court asked to levy fines for misconduct in lab scandal
Art by Hallie Pope.