Seeking Justice: At Least 40,323 People Convicted with Evidence in Question Because of Admitted Fraud
ACLU of Massachusetts and the ACLU file petition for due process
BOSTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the national ACLU, together with Foley Hoag LLP, have petitioned the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court—that state’s highest court—to bring justice to tens of thousands of people whose criminal convictions rested on the work of a chemist who has been convicted of egregious misconduct. According to a state report, this chemist worked on the cases of 40,323 people.
The misconduct occurred at the Hinton State Laboratory, where chemist Annie Dookhan deliberately invented test results, by tampering with evidence so that it would test positive for illegal drugs and by falsely claiming to have tested samples when, in fact, she did no such testing. Dookhan’s misconduct was first reported to lab managers in June 2011, yet it was not disclosed to the public until August 2012. As of today, lawyers have been assigned to only 8,700 of the tens of thousands of people who may have been convicted based on this misconduct, and only a tiny fraction of people with lawyers have had a day in court. The ACLU’s petition asks that the Supreme Judicial Court intervene and implement a comprehensive remedy for the 40,323 people who may have been improperly convicted as a result of the lab’s misconduct.
“In November Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty in a Massachusetts court. It’s time to give her victims their due process. Without intervention from the Commonwealth’s highest court, we have little hope of clearing the records of the people she hurt,” said Matthew R. Segal, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Indeed, the Commonwealth has 40,323 names of those affected but has failed to complete the most basic step: matching them with their case numbers. That’s a long way from providing court hearings for those affected, let alone providing justice.”
As it stands, the defendants in the Dookhan cases bear the responsibility for rectifying Dookhan’s wrongs; they must ascertain that the Hinton lab tested their samples and then, one by one, bring their cases to the court’s attention. In its petition to the Supreme Judicial Court, the ACLU asks that this burden be shifted to the prosecutors who used the lab.
“The state must bear the responsibility for alleviating the damage done by Annie Dookhan, for fraud she committed in her work on behalf of the state,” Emma Andersson, an ACLU Staff Attorney, explained. “That fraud cost many people their liberty. No one should have to bear the burden of her crimes twice. Leaving the work of unraveling her misconduct to the defendants themselves is clearly unjust—a scandal within a scandal.”
In the shift of responsibility to the prosecutors, the petition asks that the prosecutors be given 90 days to notify their defendants whose convictions involved Dookhan testing and tell those defendants whether they intend to re-prosecute their cases; the prosecutors would have six months to resolve those cases, whether through trials or pleas. If the prosecutor’s notice isn’t received within 90 days, then that conviction would be overturned for good. In addition, the petition recommends that, in any re-prosecution of a Dookhan case, a defendant who had accepted a plea would be protected from more severe sentences than were previously imposed or convicted of more serious offenses than those underlying the convictions in their original Dookhan cases.
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