Delaware Seeks To Overturn 9,500 Drug Convictions

By McCarton Ackerman 05/02/14

The First State has gone on the offensive in righting wrongs in drug cases that were decided based on evidence tampering or false information given by prosecutors.

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The Delaware Public Defender’s Office has filed motions to overturn 112 drug convictions made in the last four years, with the goal of eventually reversing 9,500 cases.

Delaware Public Defender Brendan O'Neill said the 112 court filings made yesterday are just the “first wave” in a series of cases the state hopes to re-open and immediately dismiss. Public defenders have claimed that between 2010 and February 2014, hundreds of defendants made decisions about whether to waive their rights or go to a trial based on lies told to them by the Controlled Substances Laboratory about the veracity of their testing. Prosecutors have already informed 63 defendants that the evidence in their cases was either tampered with or stolen.

State prosecutors have also cited security issues at the lab’s drug evidence locker, while similar safety and security issues have been highlighted in a series of news reports by Delaware paper, The News-Journal. Investigators also reviewed log notes and found discrepancies "of hours or days between the time police log notes evidence as having been submitted to the OCME and the time OCME records it as having been received.”

The security issues first came to light last January, when a state trooper testified that he was asked to open an evidence envelope and confirm that it contained 47 blue Oxycodone pills seized during a drug investigation. Instead, the envelope contained 13 heart medication pills. He also admitted not being able to recall who accepted the evidence envelope; the lab was shut down a month later. Public Defender Nicole Walker said in court documents the evidence tampering indicated that drug crimes now have a shadow of doubt cast over them.

James Woodson, the “custodian” for evidence at the drug lab, has since been suspended with pay as an ongoing investigation continues.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.