COMMENTARY: " Prosecutors Made Massachusetts’ Drug Lab Scandal Much, Much Worse," by Nina Morison and Matthew Segal, published by Slate. (Nina Morrison is a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project in New York. Matthew Segal is legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts and a former assistant federal defender.)
SUB-HEADING: "Prosecutors Made Massachusetts’ Drug Lab Scandal Much, Much Worse."
PHOTO CAPTION: "Some are still incarcerated based on one drug lab chemist’s tainted testing."
GIST: "Massachusetts is home to two of the nation’s largest drug laboratory scandals: Convictions against two different lab workers have forced prosecutors to reckon with the fact that perhaps tens of thousands of people were imprisoned based on falsified or inaccurate data. You’d expect this to cause some sense of urgency in Massachusetts. This is, after all, a state that’s proactively sued over immigration and equal marriage rights. But so far, prosecutors have badly botched the state’s response, resulting in years of delayed justice for the many defendants who may have been wrongly convicted of drug crimes. The crisis began more than four years ago, when state chemist Annie Dookhan was found to have falsified evidence at the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The drug convictions affected by her falsifications could number 24,000. But rather than solve the crisis, some district attorneys refused to identify Dookhan’s victims and even fought procedures to expedite their cases. It took years of litigation—including a lawsuit by the ACLU of Massachusetts and state public defenders—for district attorneys to begin to rectify this widespread injustice. The DAs now have until April 18 to submit a list of cases they are prepared to dismiss and a list of cases they believe still stand. Now the state is facing an even more serious scandal. This one involves misconduct by not only another state chemist but also by the prosecutors entrusted with investigating and rectifying her misconduct. The case involves former Amherst, Massachusetts, drug lab chemist Sonja Farak, who in 2014 was convicted of stealing and using drugs from the state laboratory where she worked for years. Because Farak tampered with evidence and did her job while high, her misconduct called into question any case she ever touched. But how many cases was that? Her misconduct had in fact lasted eight years. During that time, thousands of people were convicted based on Farak-tainted evidence. That’s a question for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which began prosecuting Farak in early 2013. Answering it required the office to find out how long Farak had suffered from her drug addiction and thus how many wrongful convictions she might have generated. If Farak used drugs for just a few months, she might have tainted just a few cases. If she used drugs for years, she might have tainted thousands. Our organizations—the Innocence Project and the ACLU of Massachusetts, along with the New England Innocence Project and legal ethics experts—submitted a brief Thursday explaining that the attorney general’s office came nowhere close to fulfilling its responsibility to find and disclose the truth about Farak’s possible harm to our criminal justice system. Instead, it broke at least four ethics rules, including rules requiring candor with courts and the prompt disclosure of exculpatory evidence......... The AG says that its attorneys made only “unintentional mistakes.” More shockingly, it argues that these mistakes did not “prejudice” people convicted based on Farak’s testing, because they were eventually told the truth. All they had to do was languish in prison for years. Some are still incarcerated. Others served tainted sentences and are now living under the heavy burden of wrongful drug convictions. And still others may have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. Soon, a Superior Court judge will decide whether victims of these “mistakes” by Massachusetts prosecutors deserve better. It should never have come to this."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/