Judge’s Order Formally Dismissess 11,000 Drug Convictions
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — The state's highest court on Thursday ordered the dismissal of more than 11,000 convictions linked to disgraced former state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak.
That includes 442 convictions from Bristol County.
District attorneys from throughout the state in November announced they would drop thousands of cases where Farak, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to tampering with evidence at the Department of Public Health laboratory in Amherst, signed the certificate of analysis.
A declaratory judgement from Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank Gaziano ordered the drug convictions in those cases be vacated and dismissed without prejudice.
The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that 11,162 convictions in 7,690 cases were ordered dismissed. Those numbers, ACLU legal director Matt Segal said, include 6,110 convictions in Hampden County, 1,982 convictions in the Northwestern district, 889 convictions in Berkshire County and 854 convictions in Worcester County.
Elsewhere in the state, 442 convictions were dismissed in Bristol County, 49 in the Cape and Islands, 272 in Essex County, 216 in Middlesex County, 94 in Norfolk County, 57 in Plymouth County and 197 in Suffolk County, Segal said.
Three hundred of the cases involved were juvenile cases, Segal said.
The judgement comes nearly a year after the SJC issued a final order to dismiss nearly 22,000 drug convictions involving evidence tainted by former state chemist Annie Dookhan.
In September 2017, the ACLU, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the law firm Fick & Marx LLP filed a petition asking the Supreme Judicial Court to dismiss every case where Farak served as the state's chemist.
"Today, the burden of an unjust criminal conviction has been lifted off the shoulders of thousands of people, people who can now apply for jobs and housing and move forward with their lives," CPCS staff attorney Rebecca Jacobstein said. "While we are pleased for those who have finally, after five years of litigation, obtained the relief they are entitled to, we continue to fight for those still seeking justice."
Segal said the petitioners will return to the SJC next month "ask for additional remedies to ensure that this sort of injustice doesn't happen again."
Those remedies, he said on a conference call with reporters, fall into three categories: the overturning of all drug convictions from the Amherst lab during Farak's tenure, a series of standing orders to govern how Massachusetts prosecutors respond to misconduct by chemists or attorneys on the prosecuting team, and monetary sanctions for the attorney general's office, where two former assistant attorneys general were found to have committed prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct in the Farak investigation.
--Katie Lannan, State House News Service