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BadChemistry

Annie Dookhan And The Massachusetts Drug Lab Crisis

SJC Sets ‘Presumption’ Of Misconduct In Dookhan-Related Guilty Pleas

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The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday that defendants seeking to withdraw guilty pleas because their cases were handled by disgraced former state chemist Annie Dookhan must indicate they would have insisted on a trial if they knew about her malfeasance.

In cases where Dookhan was involved as a chemist, the court decided defendants do not need to prove she had behaved improperly.

“It doesn’t require defendants to prove on a case by case basis that there was misconduct in their case,” said ACLU of Massachusetts Legal Director Matt Segal. Segal said defendants would need affidavits saying they would not have changed their not guilty pleas if they knew of Dookhan’s behavior, and said prosecutors are now barred from arguing that they would have re-tested the evidence if they knew of Dookhan’s behavior.

In several cases, the SJC vacated lower court orders that allowed defendants to withdraw their guilty pleas, which were made before Dookhan’s malfeasance at the Jamaica Plain lab was publicized.

Justice Francis Spina wrote a decision remanding the case of Rakim Scott, who admitted the state had sufficient facts to prove him guilty of crack cocaine possession, and vacating the order that had allowed him to withdraw his admission.

“In light of Dookhan’s guilty pleas and the information gathered in the course of the investigation into her misconduct, we now hold that where Dookhan signed the certificate of drug analysis as either the primary or secondary chemist in the defendant’s case, the defendant is entitled to a conclusive presumption that Dookhan’s misconduct occurred in his case, that it was egregious, and that it is attributable to the Commonwealth,” Spina wrote.

Suffolk County District Attorney spokesman Jake Wark said it is a “victory” that the court overturned orders allowing the plea withdrawals and created a “bright line” between cases handled by Dookhan versus cases merely handled at the same lab as Dookhan.

Dookhan has pleaded guilty to 27 charges related to her misconduct at the lab, where Inspector General Glenn Cuhna found poor management had allowed Dookhan to misbehave.

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The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday that defendants seeking to withdraw guilty pleas because their cases were handled by disgraced former state chemist Annie Dookhan must indicate they would have insisted on a trial if they knew about her malfeasance.