This week, six professional legal associations joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts in calling on the state Supreme Judicial Court for a global remedy to the 24,000 unresolved cases stemming from the Dookhan drug lab scandal. The Boston Bar Association, the National Association for Public Defense, the New England Innocence Project, the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers together submitted a total of four new briefs to the state high court in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County. The ACLU brought the case in 2014 and is being assisted by the law firm Fick & Marx LLP; the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is an intervenor in the case.
"We appreciate the support of these organizations. Such broad agreement shows clearly the need for a global remedy to the 24,000 cases that remain unresolved in the wake of the Dookhan drug lab scandal," said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "The state punished more than 20,000 people based on tainted evidence. Because our state does not have the resources to relitigate these cases one by one, there will be a one-size-fits all outcome of some kind: either these 24,000 convictions obtained with egregious government misconduct will be vacated by the Supreme Judicial Court, as we hope, or the vast majority of them will never be challenged. The latter outcome would be a grave injustice."
On September 23, 2016, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU, the state public defender agency CPCS, and Fick & Marx LLP filed a brief urging the SJC to vacate the 24,000 unresolved cases in which people were convicted based on tainted evidence arising from Dookhan’s misconduct. The brief shows why it is impossible to resolve the Dookhan debacle through case-by-case litigation.
District Attorneys have for years argued for retrying these cases individually, despite factors rendering such an approach impossible. Even with a significant increase in resources, public defenders would need 48 years to assign attorneys to all 24,000 defendants, according to the brief submitted in September by the ACLU and CPCS.
Worse still, a second drug lab scandal, in which chemist Sonja Farak consumed drugs from a criminal drug lab for eight years, may have tainted an additional 18,000 cases, further increasing the burdens on the defense bar. From 2004 to 2010, when both Dookhan and Farak were employed as chemists, their misconduct tainted one in four drug cases in Massachusetts. Adequate legal representation will be particularly critical in the Farak cases, where defense lawyers may be required to raise issues of prosecutorial misconduct by the Office of the Attorney General.
In most of the cases tainted by Dookhan--over 60%--the drug convictions involve only possession, not distribution. And most of the so-called Dookhan defendants have already served their sentences. A global remedy would mainly serve as a way for those affected by this scandal to clear their names and records of convictions that were obtained with the aid of fraud.