ACLU Pushes for for Dismissals in Massachusetts Drug Lab Scandal

In this Oct. 21, 2016, photo released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, a sample of carfentanil is being analyzed at the DEA’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory in Sterling, Va. (Russell Baer/U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration via AP)

BOSTON (CN) – Just weeks after winning the dismissal of more than 11,000 drug convictions, the ACLU called on the highest court in Massachusetts for additional dismissals and sanctions against the state Attorney General’s Office.

Relying on preliminary lists provided by the state’s district attorneys, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered the dismissal on April 5 of more than 11,000 drug convictions where evidence crossed paths with disgraced drug lab technician Sonja Farak. The final lists for dismissals are due in court on April 30.

Ahead of this deadline, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed an April 26 reply brief that seeks additional dismissals on the basis that all cases that came through the drug lab during Farak’s almost-decade long tenure are suspect.

In particular, the brief highlights admissions that that former assistant attorneys general Kris Foster and Anne Kaczmarek deliberately concealed the full scope of cases that Farak potentially tainted.

“In their submissions to the single justice and briefs to this court, the district attorneys and attorney general have now taken key steps forward,” the brief states. “But the progress of the past five months, without more, cannot remedy the failures of the past five years.”

The ACLU filed its brief with help from the public defenders and the firm Fick & Marx. In addition to the dismissal of all drug cases that had evidence processed at the states drug lab in Amherst, Massachusetts, the ACLU seeks sanctions against the attorney general’s office and a standard order that make prosecutors, rather than defendants, responsible for correcting “systemic lapses” in the justice system.

Farak worked as a chemist in the state’s Amherst drug lab until 2013 when she was arrested for stealing cocaine from the facility. As part of her guilty plea a year later, Farak admitted that, from 2004 until her arrest almost a decade later, she made a daily habit of treating the drug lab’s evidence supply as a personal narcotics buffet.

During this span, Farak tested seized drugs for use as evidence in criminal cases while under the influence of methamphetamine, amphetamine, phentermine, ketamine, MDMA, MDEA, LSD, cocaine or other narcotics on an almost daily basis.

Accusing the state’s district attorneys of concealing the full extent of cases affected by Farak, the ACLU of Massachusetts and co-counsel have been fighting steadily to get across-the-board relief.

Under court order, the district attorney offices produced a comprehensive list of 7,690 cases that were to be dismissed, which amounted to over 11,162 dismissals, when accounting for cases with multiple defendants.

Farak served an 18-month prison stint for her crimes and was released in 2015.

Her downfall coincided with another drug-lab scandal in Massachusetts. Last year more than 21,000 drug convictions were overturned based on their connection to Annie Dookhan, the disgraced Hinton State Laboratory chemist who went to prison after she admitted to having doctored the results about one in six of the criminal drug cases tried in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2012.

Representatives for Attorney General Maura Healey did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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