Thousands of convictions in thousands cases tainted by former state chemist Sonja Farak were ordered for dismissal today, marking a victory for justice after litigation from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) who is the plaintiff and institutional petitioner on behalf of all parties impacted, and the law firm Fick & Marx LLP.
“After living with the collateral consequences of their unfair convictions, thousands of people in Massachusetts finally have the opportunity to clear their records,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Today is a victory for justice and fairness – and an important step toward restoring the integrity of the criminal justice system and addressing the criminalization of substance abuse.”
For nearly nine years, Farak used drugs that she stole from or manufactured in the Amherst Lab, causing thousands of people to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes based on unreliable evidence. Since her arrest in 2013, Farak’s lab misconduct has been compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, including by former prosecutors with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office who – according to a judge’s findings – intentionally deceived a court and defense lawyers about the massive scope of Farak’s misconduct.
Last fall, the ACLU of Massachusetts and CPCS, together with Fick & Marx LLP, filed a petition and called for dismissal of every case tainted by Farak and subsequent years of prosecutorial misconduct. Last month, they called for the dismissal of all drug convictions arising from the Amherst Lab during Farak’s tenure.
“Today, the burden of an unjust criminal conviction has been lifted off the shoulders of thousands of people, people who can now apply for jobs and housing and move forward with their lives,” said Rebecca Jacobstein, staff attorney for CPCS. “While we are pleased for those who have finally, after five years of litigation, obtained the relief they are entitled to, we continue to fight for those still seeking justice. We have asked the court to dismiss the remaining cases where Farak signed the drug certificate of analysis. In addition, we have asked the court to dismiss all Amherst Lab cases during Farak’s tenure, because her misconduct was not limited to cases where she signed the drug certificate of analysis, but impacted all cases at the Amherst Lab.”
Fick & Marx is proud to have worked alongside the ACLU of Massachusetts and CPCS to vindicate the rights of the many people who were wrongfully convicted as a result of this latest drug lab scandal,” said Daniel Marx. “We have a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem, and aggressive drug prosecutions based on tainted evidence are not the solution.”
The victory comes nearly one year after the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in the nation’s history, 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.
Individuals with convictions tainted by the misconduct of Dookhan or Farak can call the Public Defender “Drug Lab” hotline at 1-888-999-2881 to learn how to exercise their rights.
Read Justice Gaziano's declaratory judgement here.
Learn more about the case, Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General.