ACLU lawsuit reveals one in six Massachusetts drug convictions tainted by Dookhan scandal
BOSTON — Prosecutors responding to ACLU litigation have provided lists that, for the first time, identify more than 24,000 drug cases worked on by convicted chemist Annie Dookhan, in which people were convicted or had other adverse dispositions. These Dookhan cases appear to account for an astounding 25 percent of all drug prosecutions that led to conviction in the seven counties that used the Hinton State Lab during Dookhan’s tenure, and one in six of such drug prosecutions in the Commonwealth over a 10-year period. Although nearly five years have passed since Dookhan’s misconduct was first uncovered at the Hinton Lab, and several months since Dookhan’s release on parole, this is the first time prosecutors compiled lists of the people and cases affected by the scandal.
The vast majority of the defendants in these 24,000 cases have not received any official notice that Dookhan worked on their case, let alone legal representation to help them challenge their tainted convictions. Yet their tainted convictions have brought years of jail time, as well as harsh collateral consequences, including deportation from the United States and difficulty finding employment or housing.
These revelations follow last week’s report from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, written at the request of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which found that Massachusetts is also confronted with a second enormous lab scandal arising from misconduct by chemist Sonja Farak at another state drug lab, in Amherst. According to the Attorney General, Farak used drugs daily during her eight years on the job, and her misconduct likely affects thousands more cases.
“It has taken five years and a lawsuit just to get a list of Dookhan’s cases, and that list exposes the war on drugs in Massachusetts as a massive house of cards,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The misconduct during the Dookhan-Farak Era is of course shocking, but the broader issue is the spectacular failure of the war on drugs in Massachusetts. Over the last decade, Massachusetts has convicted thousands and thousands of people of drug crimes based on tainted evidence. Those people deserve justice, and the Commonwealth needs to address its own addiction–an addiction to addressing the problem of drug use through prosecution instead of treatment.”
“This new information and the latest drug lab scandal in Massachusetts show that a case-by-case approach to this massive problem cannot serve the cause of justice or restore the integrity of our criminal justice system. We need a comprehensive solution,” said Dan Marx, attorney with Foley Hoag LLP.
Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of CPCS, said, “Getting to this point, where persons will be identified and contacted has taken far too long, and unfortunately, it is a prime example of justice delayed is justice denied.” According to Benedetti, CPCS will do everything in its power to attain justice for those harmed by Dookhan and her tainted drug samples, but added, “Finding, contacting, and then providing counsel in the more than 24,000 cases will be impossible to accomplish within any length of time that would be consistent with due process. This impossibility is especially clear when it comes to providing counsel. Unless there is a comprehensive remedy, CPCS would be asked to recruit, train, pay, and provide support to a small army of lawyers qualified to represent the thousands of Hinton Lab clients whose cases have been affected. Such an effort could not be carried out within any reasonable period of time, would cost millions of dollars, and cause incalculable damage to CPCS, its clients, and the criminal justice system.”
“Massachusetts has provided an unfortunate example for the entire nation,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Nationwide, the drug war has failed to reduce drug addiction, but this astounding series of revelations highlights the ways in which it has also sown injustice. The war on drugs has created the perfect conditions for the abuses and problems we see on a huge scale in Massachusetts. This shows why it is time to end the punitive war on drugs and shift instead to a system of treatment for drug addiction, not incarceration.”
The new data reveals important information about the extent of the drug cases tainted by the Dookhan scandal and about the challenges of using a case-by-case approach to try to remedy the wrongful convictions of the Dookhan-Farak Era:
• From 2003-2012, Dookhan’s work accounted for approximately 24,481 cases in which prosecutors obtained adverse dispositions (including guilty pleas) for drug charges, including:
– Approximately 2,255 cases in Bristol County
– Approximately 1,322 cases in the Cape and Islands
– Approximately 4,216 cases in Essex County
– Approximately 3,540 cases in Middlesex County
– Approximately 2,361 cases in Norfolk County
– Approximately 2,097 cases in Plymouth County
– Approximately 8,690 cases in Suffolk County
• Dookhan’s work appears to have accounted for about one-third of the cases in which prosecutors secured drug convictions (or other adverse dispositions) in Suffolk County, and at least one-fourth in Essex and Norfolk Counties.
• Dookhan’s work accounted for approximately one-quarter of the drug prosecutions that led to conviction in the seven counties that relied on the Hinton Lab, and one-sixth of all such drug prosecutions in the Commonwealth.
• Although Dookhan was caught committing misconduct in June 2011, it took nearly five years and the Bridgeman suit for district attorneys to produce these conviction lists.
• District attorneys have not said when, if ever, they will produce similar lists of Farak convictions. But if the Farak scandal is half as big as Dookhan’s, then about one in four drug convictions in Massachusetts over a decade will have been based on tainted evidence.
In May 2015, the SJC ruled in Bridgeman that Dookhan defendants have the right to challenge their convictions without fear of further punishment, and the SJC sent the case to Justice Botsford to determine how defendants would be identified and notified of their rights. This week’s production of case lists results from that process. Under SJC case law, each of the defendants in these 24,000 cases is entitled to a presumption that Dookhan committed misconduct in their case.
Massachusetts SJC Justice Margot Botsford required state prosecutors to produce lists of Dookhan defendants in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County, a case brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU, Foley Hoag LLP, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. After the filing of the Bridgeman case in January 2014, county district attorneys twice declined requests by CPCS, the state public defender agency, to help identify Dookhan defendants.
Justice Botsford held a hearing on May 11 to discuss these findings, as well as the need to notify defendants. While the hearing marked a further step in the ongoing effort to identify and notify Dookhan defendants, it raised broader questions about the feasibility of addressing such large drug lab scandals on a case-by-case basis. The ACLU has long called upon the SJC to implement a global remedy for cases affected by misconduct at the Hinton drug lab.
For more information about Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County, go to:
For more information about the Farak scandal, go to:
For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in Criminal Law Reform
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Criminal Law Reform
The Criminal Law Reform Project seeks to end harsh policies and racial inequities in the criminal justice system.