More Than 11,000 Drug Convictions Vacated in Massachusetts

A sample of carfentanil is being analyzed at the DEA’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory in Sterling, Va., on Oct. 21, 2016. (Russell Baer/U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

BOSTON (CN) – The highest court in Massachusetts ordered the dismissal Thursday of more than 11,000 drug convictions where evidence crossed paths with disgraced state chemist Sonja Farak.

“As an initial matter, the respondents — the attorney general and the offices of the Massachusetts district attorneys — have agreed to vacate certain convictions obtained using drug certificates signed by Sonja Farak,” Justice Frank Gaziano wrote in a declaratory judgment issued April 5.

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, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and law firm Fick & Marx LLP have been fighting steadily to get across-the-board relief.

“After living with the collateral consequences of their unfair convictions, thousands of people in Massachusetts finally have the opportunity to clear their records,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement Thursday. “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.”

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.

“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,” CPCS staff attorney Rebecca Jacobstein said in a statement. “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.”

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.

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