BOSTON (WHDH) - More than 24,000 drug convictions in 16,449 cases tainted by former state chemist Sonja Farak have been dismissed in a court case brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee of Public Counsel Services and law firm Fick & Marx, officials announced.
For nearly nine years, Farak used drugs that she stole from or manufactured in the Amherst Lab, causing thousands of people to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes based on unreliable evidence.
After her arrest in 2013, Farak’s lab misconduct was compounded by prosecutors assigned to the state AttorneyGeneral’s Office who “intentionally deceived a court and defense lawyers about the massive scope of Farak’s misconduct,” the ACLU said in a press release.
“This is a historic victory for thousands of people who were deeply harmed by our criminal legal system, first by Sonja Farak’s wrongdoing and then by the wrongdoing of government attorneys who covered up the scandal,” said Matthew Segal, legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Although we cannot recover all the time, housing, jobs, and other opportunities that were wrongfully taken from people, including our individual clients Herschelle Reeves and Nicole Westcott, we hope that this litigation has delivered some justice to them and a new and better way of handling wrongful convictions.”
A Special Master’s Report, issued Tuesday by retired Appeals Court Justice Judd Carhart, follows the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s October 2018 decision in CPCS v. Attorney General.
In that decision, the court ordered sweeping dismissals of Farak-tainted cases, required the Attorney General’s Office pay for notice to the affected people as a sanction for misconduct by two of its former attorneys, and called for changes to a rule of criminal procedure so that prosecutors receive additional instructions about their obligations to disclose evidence.
“It is disgraceful that it took over five years for the Commonwealth to address these wrongful convictions that denied people employment, housing and other opportunities necessary to lead more productive lives and provide for their families,” said Rebecca Jacobstein, director of strategic litigation at CPCS.
The case follows the ACLU’s 2017 victory in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, when a ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court resulted in the dismissal of an estimated 36,707 convictions in 21,332 cases tainted by former state chemist Annie Dookhan.
Both drug lab cases brought by the ACLU, CPCS, and Fick & Marx have now resulted in over 61,000 dismissed drug charges.
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