20,000 Drug Cases To Go Kaput Because of Dookhan Tampering
By State House News Service | April 18, 2017, 20:50 EDT
By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — As Boston’s top prosecutor identified more than 15,000 cases for dismissal, public defenders have set up a hotline and plan to provide counsel for hundreds of indigent defendants whose convictions will not be tossed by prosecutors despite the involvement of disgraced former state chemist Annie Dookhan.
In response to a January ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court in Bridgeman v. the Suffolk District Attorney, prosecutors are expected to dismiss more than 20,000 cases, leaving less than 1,000 convictions standing.
As they receive more information about the disposition of particular cases in the near future, the Committee for Public Counsel Services will be available to provide assistance to people through a new hotline at 1-888-999-2881.
Carl Williams, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the anticipated dismissals by district attorneys may be the “largest dismissal of criminal cases as the result of one case in the history of the United States of America.”
Williams said it is “impossible” to know how many of the defendants were actually in possession of illegal substances because Dookhan “put some pepper in the salt” and tainted the samples. He said 60 percent of the 24,000 Dookhan cases at issue were “people charged with simple possession,” describing them as “people who used drugs” as opposed to traffickers.
Dookhan’s fraud at a drug lab then run by the Department of Public Health was publicly exposed in 2012, throwing tens of thousands of convictions into question. The state’s highest court gave prosecutors until Tuesday to determine how many of the Dookhan-involved cases they intend to dismiss and which convictions they would seek to uphold.
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley will, if necessary, attempt to preserve the convictions of 117 individuals and identified for dismissal 15,570 “viable” convictions, his office announced.
“The 117 defendants identified in these cases account for more than 1,700 convictions for violent crimes or weapons violations, and have amassed more than 2,800 convictions in total,” Conley said in a statement. He said, “If there had been evidence that any of these defendants was actually innocent, we would not have hesitated to dismiss the case outright and exonerate the defendant immediately.”
Ben Keehn, an attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said less than 2,000 Dookhan-involved cases had previously been litigated.
Nancy Caplan, an attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said public defenders would represent indigent defendants among those whose Dookhan-involved cases will not be dismissed.
“We’re not done. There are going to be some 650 or 750 people who will still have to fight in the courts of the Commonwealth,” Caplan told reporters at a press conference outside the Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday. She said, “They will still have to fight for justice.”
Advocates for Dookhan defendants have been at odds with prosecutors about whether the prosecutors were helpful or a hindrance in addressing the Hinton drug lab scandal.
“We have acted with integrity and diligence to mitigate the damage Dookhan caused,” Jake Wark, a spokesman for Conley, said in January.
“The DAs fought us tooth and nail. Why is that?” Keehn asked. He asked, “Why are we as a Commonwealth addicted to the criminalization of drug addiction?”
Although the advocates said virtually no one is currently incarcerated because of a Dookhan-related conviction, they said myriad harms have already befallen them.
“Although this is a fair and just result now, in many respects the damage have been done. Jobs have been lost. People have been unable to get jobs. Housing has been lost. Some people have been deported,” Committee for Public Counsel Services Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti said.