ACLU takes convicted state chemist back to court

Annie Dookhan, the former state chemist who was sentenced to prison in 2013 for falsifying drug tests in criminal cases at the Hinton State Lab in Boston, returned to court Wednesday in a case charged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU is asking the state to vacate the convictions of 24,000 cases where Dookhan tampered with evidence. More than 24,000 drug cases were likely affected by a Massachusetts drug evidence scandal more than four years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday.

The civil rights group said the revised estimate, down from more than 40,000 cases, was based on information provided by prosecutors in the ongoing Supreme Judicial Court case seeking to resolve fallout from the scandal.

The latest estimate represents about one-sixth of all drug convictions and adverse judgments in Massachusetts from 2003 to 2012.

The ACLU said the revised figure is the most accurate accounting to date of the cases likely adversely affected by the actions of Annie Dookhan. The former state chemist was sentenced to prison in 2013 for falsifying drug tests in criminal cases at the Hinton State Lab in Boston. She was paroled earlier this year.

Dookhan’s misconduct was caught in late 2011. But the majority of defendants in cases affected by her actions still haven’t been officially notified or granted legal representation to challenge their convictions, the ACLU said.

“It has taken five years and a lawsuit just to get a list of Dookhan’s cases,” Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Yet their tainted convictions have brought years of jail time, as well as harsh collateral consequences, including deportation from the United States and difficulty finding employment or housing.”

The notification process is being negotiated by the ACLU, prosecutors and the state public defender’s office.

District attorney offices involved in the case said they provided the court the names, docket numbers and dispositions for affected Dookhan cases over a year ago. They said they want to look at each one on a case-by-case basis to determine if they should be dismissed. They declined to provide copies of the information or comment further.

Massachusetts also is dealing with the case of former chemist Sonja Farak. State investigators say Farak was high almost every day over the eight years she went to work at a drug lab in Amherst. They say she has put into question thousands of criminal cases she worked on between 2005 and 2013.

Farak pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and related charges in 2014. She has since completed an 18-month prison sentence and remains on probation.

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