Top Massachusetts Court Orders Sprawling Relief on Tainted Drug Cases

BOSTON (CN) – Expanding relief for a class of drug defendants whose cases crossed paths with a now-disgraced chemist, the highest court in Massachusetts agreed Thursday to throw out nearly a decade’s worth of meth convictions plus all cases from the chemist’s last four years on the job.

Though the exact number of implicated cases is unclear, previous court filings established that there were 7,690 drug cases from the state’s laboratory in Amherst, Massachusetts, where chemist Sonja Farak signed the drug certificate.

Farak’s 11-year career at Amherst ended in 2013 when she was arrested for stealing cocaine from the facility. As part of her guilty plea a year later, Farak admitted that her she had made a daily habit of treating the drug lab’s evidence supply as a personal narcotics buffet.

In addition to testing criminal evidence while under the influence herself of various narcotics, Farak admitted that she began stealing from police-submitted samples in 2009 and engaging in widespread evidence tampering.

While the state wanted to vacate only the 8,000 cases where Farak herself signed the drug certificate, the American Civil Liberties Union said the relief should cover every sample from Amherst that was tested during Farak’s employment, whether she signed the certificate or not.

The Supreme Judicial Court found that the latter was not sufficiently tailored but agreed Thursday that Farak’s misdeeds implicated far more than the cases she herself handled.

“We conclude that Farak’s widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those that the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed,”  Associate Justice Frank Gaziano for the seven-member court. “Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by governmental wrongdoing.”

Marking the court’s third brush with the Farak case, the ruling also singles out state prosecutors for initially masking the extent of misconduct.

ACLU Legal Director Matt Segal highlighted these findings when discussing the ruling this afternoon.

“For years, civil rights lawyers and our clients have been saying that there was substantial wrongdoing in the Amherst lab scandal not just by Sonja Farak but by prosecutors,” Segal said in a press call. “Today’s decision confirms that we and our clients were right.”

The court ordered the state’s district attorneys to work with the ACLU and the Committee for Public Counsel Services to determine how many more cases need to be dismissed.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re incredibly pleased to have all this work to do to get people the justice they deserve and be able to move on from this disaster,” said Rebecca Jacobstein, staff attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

On its website, the ACLU notes that it is revising a previous report that the nearly 8,000 cases where Farak signed drug certificates implicates 11,000 individuals.

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