Over 21,000 Tainted Drug Convictions Dismissed In Massachusetts

By Britni de la Cretaz 04/21/17

The chemist who falsified the test results only served three years in jail and was released on probation in 2016. 

a chemist testing a liquid in a laboratory.

In what is likely the largest mass dismissal of its kind in U.S. history, over 21,000 drug convictions in Massachusetts have been dismissed this week as a result of tainted evidence.

Over the course of eight years, chemist Annie Dookhan falsified evidence and forged documents, accounting for nearly 1 in 6 drug convictions in the state during that time period, and affecting seven districts.

According to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who represented the defendants in the case, “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.” The total number of dismissals was 21,587. 

.@ACLU @fickmarx @CPCSnews @segalmr @EzekielACLU @carltonwilliams @DecayedBeauty @AaronVotes The final tally is in! 21,587 cases have been slated for dismissal. That is 98.5% of cases deemed eligible for relief by DAs. pic.twitter.com/rlbZ2zZIev

— ACLU Massachusetts (@ACLU_Mass) April 19, 2017

In an appearance on Democracy Now!, Matt Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said that the number of cases was so high because “this misconduct was allowed to go on for so many years. And as a consequence of that, people have already served their sentences and have been living with the collateral consequences of those sentences.”

The collateral consequences of having a felony conviction on their records include the inability to find housing or employment, loss of child custody, loss of housing, or even deportation.

“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,” Daniel Marx, of Fick & Marx LLP, who represented the petitioners as pro bono counsel, said in the ACLU press release. “Doing right by the victims of the drug lab scandal is critical to restoring the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

Drug reform advocates say that “doing right” by these victims goes further than dismissing their charges. They hope to see people held accountable for allowing this to go on for as long as it did.

“Not only was there misconduct by Dookhan, but there was a failure at every step along the way to do the right thing by these people, until litigation forced the hands of the folks involved,” Segal said on Democracy Now! “What we had was the silencing, really, of whistleblowers, of potential whistleblowers, and then followed by a state police investigation, which revealed [Dookhan’s misconduct] to the public in 2012.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.