One chemist. Two prosecutors. Eleven district attorneys. Thousands of wrongful convictions.
On November 30, 2017, district attorneys agreed to dismiss more than 6,000 cases affected by misconduct involving drug lab chemist Sonja Farak and by prosecutors.
The dismissals follow a lawsuit filed in September by the ACLU of Massachusetts, Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), and the law firm Fick & Marx LLP, urging the state to dismiss every case tested by Farak, who tainted evidence almost every day for eight years. But the scandal doesn't end there.
Upon finding out about Farak's wrongdoing, officials from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office covered it up, according to a judge’s report. Worse, when the evidence tampering and subsequent cover up came to light, our Massachusetts district attorneys refused to notify the thousands of people they helped wrongfully convict with this tainted evidence.
The two individual plaintiffs in our case, Herschelle Reaves and Nicole Westcott, are among the thousands of so-called "Farak defendants" who were denied timely and meaningful opportunities to challenge their convictions. At a November 30 press conference to address the dismissals, Westcott said:
"In recovery, Step 8 is to make a list of people you have harmed. Step 9 is to make amends to those people. I have tried to do that in my life. Prosecutors in Massachusetts need to do the same. They need to make lists, and they need to make amends to the people they have harmed."
If it feels like you are experiencing déjà vu, it's because only months ago attorneys from ACLU and CPCS announced that we secured thousands of dismissals in a similarly disturbing case of evidence tampering by Annie Dookhan. That was the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in the nation’s history.
As an organization dedicated to protecting the fundamental rights of those who live in this country and this Commonwealth, the ACLU calls on our criminal justice leaders to not only prevent wrongful convictions and pervasive misconduct from ever occurring again, but to establish a new system of transparency, fairness, and equal treatment that will guarantee that those who obstruct the course of justice will be held accountable.
We won’t rest until this happens.