More Drug Lab Misconduct Results In Massachusetts Court Tossing Nearly 12,000 Convictions

from the one-drug-habit;-exponential-damage dept

If everything keeps falling apart in Massachusetts, there won’t be a drug conviction left in the state. The eventual fallout from the 2012 conviction of drug lab technician Annie Dookhan was the reversal of nearly 21,000 drug convictions. Dookhan was an efficient drug lab worker — so efficient she often never performed the tests she was required to. The state moved much slower, dragging its feet notifying those possibly affected by Dookhan’s lab misconduct until a judge told it to stop screwing around. There still could be more reversed convictions on the way as the state continues to make its way through a 40,000-case backlog.

Those numbers alone are breathtaking. But there are even more conviction dismissals on the way. Another drug lab technician convicted for stealing samples to feed her own drug habit has tainted thousands of additional drug prosecutions. A judicial order related to her questionable drug tests is erasing a whole bunch of prosecutorial wins.

The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Massachusetts said Thursday an estimated 11,162 convictions in 7,690 cases tainted by former state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak were ordered for dismissal by Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Frank Gaziano.

Farak apparently used whatever drugs she came across during her decade-plus with the Amherst, MA drug lab. This lab was inspected in 2012 by state police, shortly after the Boston lab was shut down following the discovery of Annie Dookhan’s misconduct. This apparently cursory inspection turned up nothing, and the police who can smell drugs the moment they pull over a car apparently couldn’t tell Farak had smoked crack just prior to her interview with state police inspectors. Her misconduct wasn’t discovered until 2013 — nearly eight years after Farak began using drug lab drugs regularly.

By 2010, Farak was snorting, smoking and swallowing not only the lab “standards” but also the police-submitted evidence, frequently siphoning from the powder cocaine. In one case in 2012, where police in Chicopee, Mass., had seized a kilo of cocaine, Farak “took approximately 100 grams from the same and used it to manufacture base cocaine” — crack — “at the Amherst Lab.” She also began seeking treatment for her addictions, the report states, creating another source of records about her drug use. Soon she began stealing from her co-workers’ samples as well, and manipulating the computer databases so that wasn’t noticed. Finally, a colleague looking for some of Farak’s lab samples found they had been tampered with, and she happened to get caught in January 2013.

Once this was uncovered, the state attorney general’s office released a regrettable statement claiming Farak’s eight years of drug use wouldn’t “undermine any cases. Three years later, a full report showed Farak’s abuse of her position affected nearly 8,000 cases. It also uncovered a complete lack of standards in the Amherst lab. According to the AG report [PDF], lab security was almost nonexistent. The running of “blanks” through testing equipment (to clear residue from previous drug tests) was supposed to happen after every test to avoid tainting new tests with previously-tested substances. In reality, this only happened “every 5 to 10” tests and was wholly at the tester’s discretion.

The exposure of additional drug lab misconduct is more than concerning. It’s terrifying. Based on results from labs subject to minimal standards, security precautions, and state oversight, people were being incarcerated. Drug sentences are notoriously harsh. Stealing from people is treated as a less severe violation than selling someone drugs they want to purchase. So is rape, assault, and a number of other crimes where no consensual transaction takes place. And yet, the evidence in these cases — the ones capable of delivering 25-year-minimums and life sentence-equivalents — is treated carelessly by the labs testing substances and the government overseeing them.

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Comments on “More Drug Lab Misconduct Results In Massachusetts Court Tossing Nearly 12,000 Convictions”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Tossing convictions is one thing.

Actually letting the false convicts out of jail has proven to be another thing entirely, as is removing their felony record or workplaces allowing these people to ever work again.

The United States hates its inmates, whether falsely convicted or otherwise, and most of those thousands of souls are going to have a long hard road away from ruination and suffering.

tin-foil-hat says:

Re: Tossing convictions is one thing.

I think they need to do away with all plea bargaining except for very minor crimes where a fine is offered instead of the typical short jail sentence. That way we have quality rather than quantity. Dangerous criminals will get the sentences they deserve and there will be less time to make shit up. Every branch of our government is corrupt and the constitution eroded. The legal system in the USA will never return to the state the founders intended.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Tossing convictions is one thing.

“The techs who faked the results should probably be made personally responsible for any false convictions.”

As suggested above, the real problem is that many of the convictions would have probably been plea bargains, meaning the person technically confessed rather than being found guilty by the court.

“Make them pay for any lost income or other damages the defendants has suffered.”

You can make them liable, but you won’t be able to magic up that kind of money. A former lab tech isn’t going to have the money to pay for a single person’s lost income, let alone thousands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Tossing convictions is one thing.

You are reply to a one-comment-per-year zombie there, netwit. 18 months since last comment. That “account” has only 19 comments in 7 years.

Doesn’t that strike you as ODD?

Doesn’t commenting at zombies, instead of being cautious after my warnings of late, make you look like a fool? — I can answer that: YES, it does.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Tossing convictions is one thing.

“Doesn’t that strike you as ODD?”

Not as odd as the obsessive moron who’s so short on actual ideas and issues to debate that he’s trying to build a conspiracy rather than discuss the content of the articles he’s commenting on.

If this site is so short on actual readers and commenters as you claim, then by your own theory you’re talking to nobody, and doing so obsessively on a regular basis. That’s far odder than any account date.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Tossing convictions is one thing.

As someone else pointed out, they come out looking nuts either way.

If they’re right and the comment section is nothing but TD staff, then they’re basically obsessively talking to themself.

If they’re wrong then they’re spinning yet another wild conspiracy theory about ‘zombie accounts’ to try to explain the simple fact that some people only comment when they feel they have something relevant to say, and/or can take long breaks from a site before coming back.

Either way they provide entertainment, so hey, not a total loss.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Tossing convictions is one thing.

I think the idea is not that the comment section is full of nothing but sockpuppeting Techdirt staff, but that these accounts with the “zombie” posting patterns (which, by the nature of those posting patterns, are a small minority of all commenters) are sockpuppeting Techdirt staff.

Still an unreasonable conclusion given the plausibility of the available alternatives (the main two of which you cite), but at least doesn’t lead to the “if you’re right, you’re raising the alarm to nobody but yourself” fork-twist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Today's ONE per year ZOMBIE: "KJ" back after 18 months!

(At least, one per year is current rate: 19 total in seven years still rounds UP to only THREE.)

18 months gap is FREQUENT, FAR more common than either side, especially after the first ever comment. These gaps are quantized, NOT random. — I have a list: you do not. Don’t argue without data. — And you WON’T look for the data because fear shows exactly what I state!

Here’s just a few ODD ONES with 18 month gap to show noobs that I’m not crazy:

Norm_bone: 3 (1), 18 month gap May 9th, 2016

JP: 19 (2), two gaps each about 18 months Sep 4th, 2009

musterion: 54 (7), 18 month gap 5 Oct 2009

ODD, huh? — And there aren’t thousands of accounts here, only about 500 in last 10 years, so just these FOUR examples show MUCH.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That probably has a lot to do with it to.

I once saw an episode of Dateline where a prosecutor made an outrageous plea bargain in a murder case, right before a jury verdict was going to come back. It was a panicked decision to avoid a ‘loss’ on their record.

The plea bargain was so sweet that it included zero jail time for the alleged murder who they had a strong case against (so strong that the jury came back with a guilty verdict while they were signing the deal). It wasn’t some elderly murderer who was too weak/sick to harm anyone either, it was a young 30’s woman. Regardless of if they were guilty or not, the plea bargain was so horribly bad for the prosecutor that it made no sense if their job was delivering justice. Since they had already held the trial he couldn’t even say he was saving tax payers money, except money on punishing the guilty.

ECA (profile) says:

I wonder about this country..

And I REALLY thought that OUTSIDE testing was REQUIRED for every lab in this nation..

Sending in Positive and negative batches, TO PROVE a lab was working properly..

CHECKS and balances from the Police to the LAB, and still end up with LOST MATERIAL??

This is WORSE then a Slaughter house getting a Warning 3 weeks BEFORE a major inspection..AND AFTER there is a Contamination spread..(yep its happened)

WTF…1 lad doing ?????? work over a 10+ year time..
10 years is 3650 days..And that is at LEAST 7-10 Adulterated TESTS EVERY DAY..

I love this nation..The lower classes have to WORK their buts off, to EVEN KEEP a job, because there are 4 others WAITING for them to goof up or PISS OFF A BOSS.. Those people get Enough wages for 3-4 persons to live on..ANd the ODDS are, they wont spend much time in Jail..

THOSE that went to jail..
GET TO HAVE SOOOO MUCH FUN..trying to clear their names.. They have just TRIPLED their work for the NEXT 5-6 years..Unless they HIRE another Judge to Go thru all the paper work…and decide EACH CASE INDEPENDANTLY..

Alphonse Tomato says:

Re: I wonder about this country..

Industry does get check assays. Where I worked, it was maybe every 20 samples (minerals, not drugs) would get split (or a standard sample introduced) and sent to a second (outside) lab. If the results didn’t seem to match fairly well, even a third lab (it didn’t happen very often). We did have (and retain) enough material to go back and do everything over again, if it seemed likely there was a problem. But it may be easier to retain a warehouse full of rock samples, they’re not likely to get stolen by the employees.

Anonymous Coward says:

statistically quantifying sloppiness? not in the least.

Any commercial operation of any kind would have had some kind of ongoing quality-control system in place, such as in this case secretly submitting pre-configured samples to check the accuracy of the employee’s performance. Factories learned long ago that quality control is a necessary component of any kind of sweatshop operation where workers are under severe pressure to work faster and faster.

Just another example of the incompetence of a government entity that operates completely outside of the cold hard reality that private for-profit companies exist in. This Massachusetts lab had set itself up for eventual failure.

Ninja (profile) says:

So over 40k people had their lives destroyed by law enforcement misconduct. I say law enforcement because these labs aren’t the only flawed things sending innocents to jail.

But even with all this damage it’s good this is happening. It’s a very good counter argument against things like “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. You actually have plenty to fear because you can be arrested and convicted at the whims of some corrupt law enforcement agents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The Gov’t can work with criminals
It can work with cowed disarmed citizens
It cant work with law abiding armed citizens who will
call out their shit if pushed to far .
Solution …. Govt locks up as many innocent people as possible and hopes to have sheeple go along with them to disarm population who disagree with said rotten Govt to
keep themselves in power .
All in the name of keep said sheeple safe

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The eternal government game…

Government: Give me power and I will protect you!
Citizens: Okay!
Government: ha ha haaaa… suckers!
Citizens: The corruption is killing us, help!
Smart Person: But you voted for this!
Citizens: Stop victim blaming!
Smart Person: Not possible, you need to be a victim for me to victim blame, you are the perpetrator of the very miseries that have come home to roost!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The eternal government game...

Remember how it started

Warriors: Give us your food!

Farmers: If we do that, we’ll starve.

Warriors: If you don’t I’ll kill you.

Farmers: Take half our food. Then we can live, and you can raid us next year.

Warriors: Ha! That’s…actually, that’s kinda brilliant. Okay, give us half your food!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Conversely...

Government: Give me power and I will protect you!

‘Smart’ person: I refuse, I can protect myself.

Person with a gun: Give me your stuff or I’ll shoot.

‘Smart’ person: I refuse, I can protect myself.

Gun: Bang

Smart corpse: Lots of bleeding.


Government: Give me power and I will protect you!

‘Smart’ person: I refuse, I can protect myself.

Person with a gun: Give me your stuff or I’ll shoot.

‘Smart’ person: I refuse, I can protect myself for I have a gun too!

Person with a gun: From me? Maybe. From the many others like me who are more than willing to put ‘might makes right’ into practice? Not a chance. Now hand it over.

Government: If only there was some large group that could have evened that out…


Government: Give me power and I can protect you.

‘Smart’ person: I refuse, I can protect myself.

Company: Give me money for the services you need.

‘Smart’ person: I refuse, I object to your actions and your services are crap.

Company: Too bad, we’re the only ones around offering it, so you either pay us or go without entirely.

‘Smart’ person: But I can’t go without, if I do so I will be at a serious disadvantage with other people, and it could very well cost me my job/house/life!

Company: Then you’d better pay up, and oops, we changed our terms of use to benefit us even more, better do it quick before we change the terms again.

‘Dumb’ person: If only there was someone to step in and balance out the difference in power. Well, you didn’t want the government involved to ‘protect’ you, so clearly you deserve anything the company does to you as you asked for it.

Unless you like anarchy/’might makes right'(in which case you better be damn sure that you’ve got the biggest stick around), government is all but a requirement to have a stable society, as is the government having the ability and willingness to apply sufficient power for enforcement and equalization of the playing field. That it can become corrupt and need fixing does not make the alternative(what is your alternative by the way?) better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Big Prisions in Mass?

Just curious, have there been any large private prisons built in Massachussets in the last 10 years? Somebody needed to fill them, I mean it’s not like criminals will just make themselves if the government doesn’t invent them (at least not fast enough for media purposes… Drug Labs, FBI, CIA… fabricating criminals is much easier than actually catching the real ‘bad’ guys out there)

discordian_eris (profile) says:

No Humans Involved

No Humans Involved has been used as code by law enforcement since at least 1973. ‘NHI’ is police jargon for crimes against ‘inhuman’ people: prostitutes, informants, gang members, and drug users. It was also popular among LEOs in regards to black on black crime, and any crime where the victim was gay.

It is obvious to any objective observer that many, if not most, police departments (and their labs, the prosecutors etc) continue to feel the same way. All you have to do is look at the way that their labs are FUBARed; that so many departments have incredible backlogs of rape kits; that ‘walking while black’ even exists at all; the way prosecutors and judges conspire in the plea bargain assembly line. The list is nearly endless of how the ‘justice’ system considers anyone who is not rich and white to be sub-human.

Considering that there are No Humans Involved (in the eyes of the cops) in most drug crimes, is it any surprise, to anyone, that their labs are so poorly managed? Someone stealing drugs for years, and even using the stolen drugs on the premises? Ignoring basic protocols? Making shit up and faking thousands of tests? Par for the course apparently. After all, No Humans Involved.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Nice standards there

Once this was uncovered, the state attorney general’s office released a regrettable statement claiming Farak’s eight years of drug use wouldn’t "undermine any cases.

‘Yeah the person performing the tests that were used to secure convictions or plea deals was actively using drugs, often times the very ones they were tasked with testing, but it’s not like having someone with a drug addiction running vitally important tests would impact the accuracy of those tests, so no harm done.’

I guarantee that if the result of the drug use had been less convictions their claim that rampant drug use by the one running the tests didn’t impact the tests would have been dead opposite. Since they resulted in convictions though, who cares, not like they were impacted negatively.

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