For years, state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan was allowed to falsify and fabricate evidence, causing tens of thousands of people to be convicted of drug crimes based on tainted evidence and fraud. Since her misconduct was revealed to the public in 2012, the ACLU has argued that putting the burden on thousands of defendants to petition the courts for relief individually would deny justice.
January 2014 - Bridgeman is filed
The ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU and the law firm Foley Hoag LLP filed Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County on behalf of three petitioners who had been convicted of state drug charges in cases where Dookhan was the chemist. The case was filed before a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).
The petition sought: 1) a rule preventing defendants seeking post-conviction relief based on Dookhan’s misconduct from being convicted of more serious offenses or receiving harsher sentences than previously imposed; and 2) a time limit for prosecutors to re-prosecute any Dookhan cases, after which all other cases tainted by Dookhan would be dismissed. The case was referred to the full SJC.
May 2015 - Landmark ruling
In May 2015, the SJC delivered a landmark ruling. Using its general superintendence power over the judicial branch, the Court held that defendants granted a new trial as a result of Dookhan’s misconduct could not be charged with a more serious offense than the offense of conviction or receive a sentence more severe than that originally imposed. Although the SJC declined “at this time” to adopt a more comprehensive remedy that would resolve the cases of thousands of Dookhan defendants at once, its important ruling made it possible for Dookhan defendants to challenge their tainted convictions without fear of negative repercussions.
But more than 20,000 Dookhan defendants had still not received notice of Dookhan’s involvement in their case. What is more, the Commonwealth had never prepared a comprehensive list of all of the cases that were impacted by Dookhan’s misconduct.
Accordingly, before the single justice session, the seven District Attorneys offices with Dookhan cases were urged to compile lists of affected cases.
May 2016 - Victims identified
The DA's offices produced lists that identified 24,391 cases as having been handled by Dookhan and still carried convictions and other adverse dispositions for defendants. More here.
August 2016 - Reservation and report
Recognizing that individual litigation of 24,391 cases would be untenable, the ACLU was joined by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) in requesting the SJC to consider whether a comprehensive solution to the cases is warranted. CPCS had warned the Court since 2013 that a case-by-case approach to resolving tainted Dookhan cases would be disastrous.
The single justice granted that request for reservation and report on August 16, 2016. In November 2016, the SJC will consider whether the more than 24,000 cases involving misconduct by Dookhan should be dismissed or subjected to a court-imposed deadline.
September 2016 - DA notice
Four years after Dookhan's misconduct became public and two months before the SJC was set to hear the argument on the rights of Dookhan defendants, the DAs decided the time had some to send individual notices.
But the misleading notice sent to perhaps 20,000 Dookhan defendants by the District Attorneys removed all hope that Dookhan defendants, once notified that their cases had been tainted, would be able to seek relief case-by-case. Among other things, the notice ominously warned that any defendant whose conviction is vacated will have an active criminal case, suggesting the prosecutors have already decided not to dismiss any cases. Moreover, the notice was so poorly translated that people who only speak Spanish would not be able to understand it.
September 2016 - ACLU and CPCS file brief seeking to dismiss 24,000 cases
The ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU, the state public defender agency, and the law firm Fick & Marx LLP filed a brief to the SJC to vacate 24,000 unresolved cases in which people were convicted based on tainted evidence arising from the Dookhan's misconduct. The brief demonstrated that it is impossible to resolve the Dookhan debacle through case-by-case litigation and the cases must be dismissed. More here.
The next hearing is set for early November.
Click here to learn more about the case, read the briefs and see news coverage.