A Decade's Worth Of Meth Convictions Overturned Due To Drug Lab Employee's Misconduct

from the putting-'crime'-back-into-'crime-lab!' dept

Massachusetts prosecutors are seeing a bunch more Drug War wins turned into losses by drug lab misconduct. Annie Dookhan, a drug lab technician, falsified countless tests, ultimately resulting in the overturning of more than 20,000 convictions. Dookhan was valued for her productivity, but no one above her bothered to wonder why she was able to process samples so quickly. Turns out tests go much faster when you don't actually perform the tests.

If that were it, it would have been more than enough indication the nation's crime labs need more oversight and auditing. But it isn't. Another tech at another Massachusetts drug lab is erasing thousands of convictions. Chemist Sonja Farak, an 11-year veteran of the Amherst drug lab, apparently spent much of that time using the substances she was supposed to be testing, turning in falsified test results that landed people behind bars.

The Farak investigation uncovered the drug lab's lack of standards, which included more than allowing an employee to use drugs while on the clock for at least eight of the eleven years she was employed. There's no way of telling how many drug tests might be tainted, not just by employee malfeasance, but by a lack of best practices, like running blanks through testing equipment to ensure new tests weren't tainted by residue left behind by previous tests.

The total number of convictions expected to be thrown out due to Farak's abuse is currently sitting at 7,690 cases. But this won't be the final total. Zach Huffman of Courthouse News Service reports an entire decade's-worth of convictions is being examined.

Expanding relief for a class of drug defendants whose cases crossed paths with a now-disgraced chemist, the highest court in Massachusetts agreed Thursday to throw out nearly a decade’s worth of meth convictions plus all cases from the chemist’s last four years on the job.

The state wants the bleeding to stop at 8,000 cases -- covering only those where Farak signed the drug certificate. But as the court points out in its order [PDF], this isn't just about Farak. It's about the drug lab that protected Farak and the prosecutors that protected the drug lab -- the latter of which included hiding evidence of misconduct from accused drug offenders.

The respondent Attorney General contests the petitioners' proposed remedy, as well as the result suggested by the district attorneys. The Attorney General proposes a different remedy. Based on Farak's admission that she began to tamper with other chemists' samples in the summer of 2012, the Attorney General contends that those defendants whose drug samples were tested between June, 2012, and Farak's arrest in January, 2013, should be offered the opportunity to obtain relief under the protocol established by this court in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 476 Mass. 298, 316-317 (2017) (Bridgeman II).

We conclude that Farak's widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those that the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed. Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by governmental wrongdoing.

The AG's suggested fix is completely inadequate. The court's final decision covers far more than the limited one-year window of adjacent convictions the AG was willing to toss.

The class of "Farak defendants" includes all defendants who pleaded guilty to a drug charge, admitted to sufficient facts on a drug charge, or were found guilty of a drug charge, where (i) Farak signed the certificate of analysis; (ii) the conviction was based on methamphetamine and the drugs were tested during Farak's tenure at the Amherst lab; or (iii) the drugs were tested at the Amherst lab on or after January 1, 2009, and through January 18, 2013, regardless of who signed the certificate of analysis.

It is impossible this is the only state where this sort of misconduct has occurred. Testing drug samples is like any other job -- people will cut corners. But it also offers something for those with drug problems and those seeking to personally profit from their employment. Something other jobs don't offer: unfettered access to controlled substances. People will be people and drugs will disappear and results will be faked. The problem is this employee misconduct costs people their freedom. And from what's been observed in two major cases in Massachusetts, the entities overseeing these labs don't care about the collateral damage until a court forces them to.

Filed Under: annie dookhan, drug lab, massachusetts, meth convictions, misconduct, sonja farak

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  1. icon
    Gary (profile), 15 Oct 2018 @ 12:48pm

    Tested in Full

    Well they maybe didn't use the proper lab equipment but they personally tested all the samples they could - that should count for something shouldn't it?

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