Defense and civil liberties lawyers will ask the state’s highest court to vacate convictions this week in more than 24,000 drug-related cases infamously tainted by the misconduct of a state lab chemist.
The chemist, Annie Dookhan, has already served a three-year sentence for tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests, but many of the defendants convicted over the eight years she worked in the lab have not had a chance to challenge their convictions.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and public defenders will argue for a mass dismissal of these convictions before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday.
“The state punished 24,000 people based on tainted evidence, and they have all been living with the consequences. These defendants would have to wait decades for justice through case-by-case litigation,” Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said. “Because there are not enough resources to relitigate these cases one by one, there will be a one-size-fits all outcome of some kind: either these 24,000 convictions obtained with egregious government misconduct will be vacated by the Supreme Judicial Court, or the vast majority of themwill never be challenged.”
State district attorneys have for years argued to retry separately each of the cases affected by Dookhan’s misconduct. The ACLU alleges it would take the state 48 years to assign attorneys to all 24,000 defendants.
The majority of Dookhan defendants faced simple possession charges, but even misdemeanor crimes can affect a person’s access to housing, jobs, and other benefits, according the ACLU’s brief.