6,000+ Convictions Linked to Corrupt Crime Lab Chemist Are Dismissed

By Paul Gaita 12/05/17

Massachusetts crime lab chemist Sonja Farak admitted that she would steal and use drug evidence—everything from crack to ketamine.

test tubes
The evidence has been tainted.

In 2013, chemist Sonja Farak, who worked in the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst, was arrested on charges of drug possession and tampering with evidence on a handful of drug-related cases. But over the next two years, evidence came to light that showed Farak had not only stolen crack cocaine, methamphetamines and other hard narcotics from as many as 10,000 different samples and consumed the drugs, but also processed the criminal cases under the influence of said narcotics.

As a result, countless numbers of cases were under review for dismissal, and on November 30, Boston prosecutors announced that they would dismiss more than 6,000 convictions linked to evidence processing done by Farak.

The decision to dismiss the cases came from a petition filed in September 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Massachusetts' public defender agency, which requested that the Massachusetts Supreme Court nullify any convictions related to Farak.

Cases from 11 district attorneys' offices will be cleared away as a result of the decision, with the majority of these coming from the Hampden District Attorney, who will expunge nearly 4,000 cases on its files. According to the Boston Herald, the actual number of cases dismissed may reach as high as 7,500.

"Today was a great day for the people who were wrongly convicted," said lawyer Daniel Marx of the law firm Fick & Marx, which aided the ACLU in filing the petition. Defense attorneys do not believe that any individuals are serving time due to cases processed by Farak, though they did say that it was possible that some may have been sentenced for later crimes based on the convictions generated by Farak cases.

The dismissals are the second such incident to involve chemists at the Massachusetts State Lab. In April 2017, prosecutors agreed to dismiss more than 20,000 drug cases in eight Boston-area counties due to tainting caused by Annie Dookhan, who reportedly falsified test results in an effort to maintain high productivity rates. Dookhan pled guilty to 27 counts of misleading investigators, tampering with evidence and filing false reports, and served three years plus probation in prison before being released in 2016.

The fallout from both cases appeared to leave pall over the State Lab and the Massachusetts legal system as a whole.

"Dismissal vindicates the rights of our clients to due process and fair prosecution and restores the integrity to the justice system," said Randy Gioia, the deputy chief counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. "It turns out, for thousands of people, the system that sent them to jail or put them on probation was rotten to the core."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.