ACLU Asks Mass. High Court For ‘Comprehensive Remedy’ For Drug Lab Cases
BOSTON — Massachusetts’ highest court is again being asked for guidance on how to deal with criminal convictions thrown into question by the state drug lab crisis.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Massachusetts ACLU on Thursday filed a petition with the state Supreme Judicial Court asking for a “comprehensive remedy” in dealing with drug lab cases.
The petition also questions the constitutionality of allowing the affected criminal cases to linger as the state continues to investigate the extent of the scandal.
Although former chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to falsifying drug tests and was sent to prison in November, many lawyers say the cases involving her bogus testing remain in limbo in state courts.
As of December 2013, there were 3,200 Superior Court drug lab hearings and 350 people were released from Massachusetts prisons. Many were released on probation conditions as their cases make their way through the criminal justice system.
The ALCU petition says any further delays in these cases violate defendants’ due process rights.
The petition seeks two main things from the high court:
- a ruling that would prohibit defendants who challenge their convictions from being sentenced to more time in prison than previously imposed;
- an order giving prosecutors a specific amount of time to determine if they will reprosecute cases that were based on Dookhan’s tests.
“The state should have to prove why they want to re-litigate these cases and not leave it up to defense attorneys to identify the people with tainted convictions,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
Affidavits filed with the ACLU petition also question the state’s so-called “master list” of people affected by the crisis, which indicates that 40,323 people were convicted based on evidence tested by Dookhan.
But in one affidavit filed with the SJC petition, defense attorney Thomas Workman points out that the state list does not include docket numbers, which the courts use to identify cases.
“Unless such information is obtained, the ‘master list’ is not by itself particularly useful to defense attorneys seeking to vindicate the rights of their clients or former clients,” Workman’s affidavit says.
His affidavit also quotes a WBUR analysis of some of the drug testing done at the now-closed Hinton drug lab, where Dookhan worked. Workman conducted a further analysis; he says he found that the average weight for samples measured by Dookhan was three times higher than the weights of the samples measured by other chemists at the lab. Dookhan was not charged with altering the weights of drug samples.
State officials have acknowledged that the data from the lab was not complete and they had a difficult time identifying all affected cases. Yet they say they stand by the work done by attorney David Meier in creating the “master list.”
The state inspector general is reviewing all operations at the Hinton Lab and is expected to issue a report soon.