Massachusetts Primes for Dismissal of Thousands of Drug Cases

BOSTON (CN) – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set the stage Thursday for the state to dismiss, as soon as next week, thousands of drug convictions tainted by disgraced former chemist Sonja Farak.

“I would like to get the lists certified to me and to get these cases dismissed within 30 days,” Associate Justice Frank Gaziano said this morning.

Although the state disputes the true scope of tainted cases, it agreed with the challengers at the American Civil Liberties Union that immediate relief was appropriate for cases that have already been identified.

Farak was a former chemist at the Amherst drug lab who pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine she was supposed to be testing for the criminal drug cases.

On an almost daily basis from August 2004 until she was caught on Jan. 18, 2013, Farak “was under the influence of methamphetamine, amphetamine, phentermine, ketamine, MDMA, MDEA, LSD, cocaine, or other narcotics (or suffering withdrawal from those substances),” according to a petition the ACLU filed last fall on behalf of those convicted.

The ACLU of Massachusetts announced in December that 6,057 cases had been identified by the state’s various district attorneys to be dismissed. Since then, the total is reached about 8,000, said Matthew Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Representing the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Rebecca Jacobstein raised concerns Thursday before Justice Gaziano that the current lists of cases affected by Farak failed to include co-defendants, because many of the names of were gathered by checking drug test certificates that Farak signed, which only list the lead defendant.

“We have some concerns about the content of the list,” she said. “It’s clear that a lot of work has been done and lot of work has gone into this. The lists have problems. Generally, cases of co-defendants are not there.”

To begin clearing cases even as the search for more victims continues, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Ian Leson said that his office was in support of an interim list of cases that will be dismissed.

“For those of us who have developed lists and to the best of our knowledge have tried everything, it would almost seem arbitrary to me to wait for a perfect list,” said Leson.

Gaziano ordered that both sides agree to a certified list as soon as possible, and filed an order to dismiss so that Gaziano can approve it.

“My goal is to get that signed by the end of next week,” said Gaziano.

Farak’s 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.

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