Thousands of drug convictions linked to convicted chemist thrown out
iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) — A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice dismissed more than 7,600 criminal drug cases because of their ties to a former chemist whose use of drugs in a state lab may have tainted evidence.
Justice Frank Gaziano signed a declaratory judgment ordering the cases overseen by Sonja Farak, who worked at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst, to be vacated and dismissed.
Sonja Farak spent nearly nine years misusing drugs in the state lab before she was arrested in 2013. She pleaded guilty in 2014 to drug possession and evidence tampering and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Last fall the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) teamed up with the Fick & Marx law firm in Boston and filed a petition calling for the dismissal of every drug conviction that came out of Amherst lab while Farak was working there.
“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,” Rebecca Jacobstein, a staff attorney for CPCS said in a statement.
The ACLU also points to prosecutorial misconduct, accusing prosecutors of deceiving defense lawyers on the scope of Farak’s wrongdoing.
In total, 11,162 convictions from 7,690 cases were thrown out. Most of these convictions come from Hampden County, according to the ACLU.
“We have a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem, and aggressive drug prosecutions based on tainted evidence are not the solution.” Daniel Marx of Fick & Marx said in a statement.
This dismissal comes a year after a separate incident in the state in which 22,000 wrongful drug convictions were overturned after being tainted by another state chemist, Annie Dookhan.
The dismissals stemming from Dookhan’s alleged tampering marked the largest instance of wrongful convictions in the nation’s history, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU and the CPCS will be filing another petition with the state’s top court to throw out even more cases and establish guidelines to prevent future cases of evidence tampering.
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