Drug convictions have lasting, collateral consequences: Each conviction on a person’s record can make it more difficult to get a job, an apartment, a student loan—anything they could want or need to rebuild their life.

More than 47,000 drug charges have been dismissed due to Massachusetts’ two drug lab scandals, but thousands of people still don’t know that they were impacted by the state’s misconduct. Together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the ACLU of Massachusetts launched an unprecedented notice campaign to spread the word that wrongfully convicted people have a path to justice—and an opportunity to more easily rebuild their lives.


In addition to printed postcards, fliers, and notice letters, the ACLU and CPCS are on the airwaves, in newspapers, and online, informing people that they can challenge their convictions in court and encouraging them to call the public defender drug lab hotline. People convicted of a Massachusetts drug crime in a case that started between 2003 and 2013 can find out if their charges were dismissed by calling 1-888-999-2881.

This new model for addressing wrongful convictions was made possible through civil rights litigation and a series of court rulings. Initially, the burden to address wrongful convictions was on the wrongfully convicted people—not the state. The ACLU of Massachusetts and CPCS went to court to shift that burden. And, after years of litigation, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did just that. Most recently, an October 2018 decision required the state Attorney General’s Office to pay to notify every person who was wrongfully convicted.

Massachusetts’ drug lab scandals are the inevitable result of a system that is dedicated to punishment, instead of healing. If there’s one takeaway from this concerted effort to right the wrongs of the criminal legal system, let it be that those convictions never should have been pursued in the first place.

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