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Court orders dismissal of weak Dookhan drug cases

Prosecutors have 90 days to dismiss before notification of remaining 24,000 cases begins.

Wednesday ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court intended to put tainted Dookhan casFile Photo

The state’s highest court ordered prosecutors to dismiss any cases tainted by the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal that would be too weak to retry.

While the Wednesday ruling declined to issue the “global remedy” sought by the ACLU and other civil rights groups for dismissal of all 24,000 cases affected by tainted evidence, it offered a three-step plan to deal with the cases in question.

RELATED: ACLU wants mass dismissal of 24,000 drug cases

Over the next 90 days prosecutors must sift through all affected cases and move to vacate or dismiss all cases that would be unlikely to have been tried without the tainted drug evidence.

Next prosecutors must notify any defendants whose cases will not be dropped. The ruling also ordered public defenders be made available for any indigent defendants.

“We recognize that the implementation of this protocol will substantially burden the district attorneys, [public defenders], and the courts. But we also recognize that Dookhan's misconduct at the Hinton Lab has substantially burdened the due process rights of many thousands of defendants whose convictions rested on her tainted drug analysis and who, even if they have served their sentences, continue to suffer the collateral consequences arising from those convictions,” the ruling stated.

The courts have been grappling with how to handle more the more than 40,000 cases handled by Dookhan during her 10-year tenure at the Hinton state drug lab since she confessed to misconduct in 2012.

RELATED: Mass. drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan pleads guilty

Dookhan admitted to "contaminating samples intentionally, including turning negative samples into positive samples on at least a few occasions,” among other examples of mishandling samples.

She was charged with 17 counts of tampering with evidence, eight counts of obstruction of justice, one count of perjury, and one count of falsely claiming to hold a graduate degree.

Dookhan pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three to five years in jail, followed by two years probation. She was released from prison last year.

 

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