US Crime Lab Scandal Forces Prosecutors to Disavow Thousands of Drug Convictions

00:15  20 april  2017
00:15  20 april  2017 Source:   ProPublica

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The prosecutors ’ move to dismiss thousands of cases follows a January decision from Massachusetts’ highest court, which Four years after a Massachusetts crime lab chemist confessed to tainting evidence, more than 20,000 defendants still don’t know if their drug convictions will stand.

The decision comes as another Massachusetts drug lab scandal is working its way through the courts. Thousands of Potentially Wrongful Convictions ; Years of Delayed Action. Four years after a Massachusetts crime lab chemist confessed to tainting evidence, more than 20,000 defendants still

Annie Dookhan during a hearing at Suffolk Superior Court in 2013 © David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images Annie Dookhan during a hearing at Suffolk Superior Court in 2013 During her career as a Massachusetts lab chemist, Annie Dookhan has admitted to making up drug test results and tampering with samples, in the process helping send scores of people to prison. Her work may have touched some 24,000 cases.

On April 18, nearly five years after Dookhan’s confession, prosecutors submitted lists of about 21,587 tainted cases with flawed convictions that they have agreed to overturn. The state’s highest court must still formally dismiss the convictions.

Once that happens, many of the cleared defendants will be freed from the collateral consequences that can result from drug convictions, including loss of access to government benefits, public housing, driver’s licenses and federal financial aid for college. Convicted green card holders can also become eligible for deportation, and employers might deny someone a job due to a drug conviction on their record.

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More than four years after a Massachusetts lab chemist confessed to manipulating drug test results, the state’s highest court has called on prosecutors to reverse potentially thousands of tainted convictions .

The Court of Criminal Appeals continued to reverse more convictions of drug offenders on Wednesday after a former employee with a DPS crime laboratory in Houston may have fabricated the results of thousands of drug tests.

“The bad news is, it took a lot of time and litigation to get to this point. But the good news is, the courts are working really hard to make sure this relief is meaningful,” said Matthew Segal, the legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, who helped represent some of the Dookhan defendants.

The state’s public defender agency has opened a telephone hotline (888-999-2881) to field questions that defendants may have about their convictions and whether they were dismissed. Prosecutors have until mid-May to send notice to those whose convictions were not overturned — in about 320 cases — so that those defendants can decide whether to request a new trial. Those cases involve what prosecutors considered to be the most serious offenders, and prosecutors believe that they have enough clean evidence to defend the original convictions.

Prosecutors move to toss thousands of tainted drug cases

  Prosecutors move to toss thousands of tainted drug cases Prosecutors in Massachusetts moved Tuesday to dismiss thousands of drug convictions tainted by a former state drug lab chemist who pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and falsifying tests. The state's highest court had ordered district attorneys in seven counties to produce lists by the end of the day on Tuesday indicating how many of the approximately 24,000 affected cases involving Annie Dookhan they would not, or could not, prosecute if new trials were ordered. Dookhan pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to three years in prison. She was paroled last year.

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Crime , Drug War. “It is now time for the DAs to step up and finally allow Massachusetts to turn the page on the worst drug lab scandal in our nation’s history, especially because the Amherst drug lab scandal involving chemist Sonja Farak has called into question thousands more drug convictions .”

The earliest Dookhan cases go back to 2003, which means that some individuals have been living with a flawed drug conviction for nearly a decade and a half. Lawyers for defendants, prosecutors and the state’s top court are also grappling with the question of how to find and contact defendants who may have been deported from the U.S. due to their now-overturned convictions, Segal said.

As a result, the effects of having an illegitimate drug conviction wiped away may not be immediately felt by many defendants.

“The longer that these tainted convictions remained on the books, the more power they’ve had and the more sway they’ve had over people’s lives,” said Luke Ryan, a criminal defense lawyer who has been following the Dookhan fallout and is also representing clients harmed by another Massachusetts drug lab scandal. “They’ve made choices around where they live, whether they can apply for public housing. They’ve foregone educational opportunities because they didn’t think they would be able to take advantage of them, they haven’t pursued job opportunities that maybe they could have gotten.”

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«» Prosecutors in Massachusetts moved Tuesday to dismiss thousands of drug convictions tainted by a former state drug lab chemist who pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and falsifying tests. Court Orders Compromise in Drug Cases Tainted by Lab Scandal .

The prosecutors’ move to dismiss thousands of cases follows a January decision from Massachusetts’ highest court, which required them to decide which Dookhan convictions they would maintain and which ones they would dismiss. For years, prosecutors opposed any wholesale review of Dookhan-involved cases and at one point argued that they had no duty to send notice to convicted defendants of the possibly tainted evidence.

Four years after a Massachusetts crime lab chemist confessed to tainting evidence, more than 20,000 defendants still don’t know if their drug convictions will stand. Read the story.

In September, prosecutors finally mailed out thousands of notices, but the letters lacked key information and were accompanied by an inadequate Spanish translation, according to the court. As of November, fewer than 2,000 Dookhan defendants had sought or gained relief from their convictions.

The most affected cases — nearly 8,000 — came from Suffolk County, which includes Boston. All of the convictions were based on “reliable, admissible evidence” in addition to Dookhan’s tainted test results, and many of the defendants have criminal records that extend beyond the Dookhan cases, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

The county’s mass dismissal “represents a good faith effort to meet the high court’s goal of winnowing the number of Dookhan defendants down to a manageable number,” the statement said.

The hundreds of defendants whose Dookhan convictions were not overturned could still decide to challenge them by requesting a new trial. If they cannot afford their own lawyer, the state public defender agency is required to provide them one for free.

“It will be a challenge. But it’s certainly a whole lot more manageable than the prospect of 20,000,” said Nancy Caplan, the attorney leading the agency’s Dookhan response. “It’s within the realm of possibility.”

Juries feel more when they see crime-scene photos in color .
What if you sat on a jury that wrongly convicted an innocent person of murder—all because of color crime-scene photos? It could happen. It could happen. In research published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology, Public Policy, and Law journal on March 30, social psychologist Jessica Salerno found that color photos of murders disgust jurors more than the same images in black and white. This disgust leads jurors to want to punish defendants, and to ignore other evidence, according to her study.

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