ACLU of Massachusetts victory sets up single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in nation's history
BOSTON – An estimated 20,000 drug cases tainted by former state chemist Annie Dookhan are being set for dismissal today, marking a victory for justice after years of litigation from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU, the state public defender’s office, and law firm Fick & Marx LLP.
“Today is a major victory for justice and fairness, and for thousands of people in the Commonwealth who were unfairly convicted of drug offenses,” said Matthew Segal, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Unfortunately, the victims of this crisis waited far too long for justice. It shouldn’t have taken years of litigation by the ACLU, public defenders, and pro bono lawyers to address this stain on the Commonwealth’s justice system.”
For years, Dookhan falsified and fabricated evidence, causing approximately 20,000 people to be convicted of drug crimes based on tainted evidence and fraud. Following years of ACLU litigation, the state’s high court in January 2017 ordered district attorneys to dismiss the vast majority of the tainted convictions. This victory sets up the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in the nation’s history.
“Although the so-called ‘Dookhan defendants’ completed their lengthy prison sentences, they continued to suffer the harsh collateral consequences of their tainted convictions, which limited employment prospects, diminished housing opportunities and threatened lawful immigration status. Now, a majority of these wrongfully convicted individuals will have the opportunity to clear their records and move on with their lives,” said Daniel Marx, of Fick & Marx LLP, who represented the petitioners as pro bono counsel. “Doing right by the victims of the drug lab scandal is critical to restoring the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
Communities, particularly low-income and Black and Brown communities, have endured these collateral consequences: people have had their career put on hold and their driver’s licenses seized, and some have been evicted from their homes or even deported from the country. These outcomes are all too common in the disastrous war on drugs.
“Today is a good day for justice in Massachusetts for thousands of people who have been wronged by the criminal punishment system,” said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the National ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “But this day would never have been needed if the powers that be had taken a smarter, more thoughtful, more public health-oriented approach to drugs. Widespread injustice like this should prompt not just Massachusetts, but every state, to declare an end to our country’s failed, costly, unfair war on drugs, and to reduce the thousands of unnecessary arrests and prosecutions taking place every day across this country.”
The ACLU of Massachusetts along with attorneys from the public defender’s office will be holding press availability at 3 p.m. today at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. A final tally of the dismissed cases will be available at approximately 4:45 p.m. today.
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