Constitutional Law

In wake of crime lab scandal, ACLU asks top state court for dismissal of 40,000 cases

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Instead of putting the burden on defendants to challenge convictions in over 40,000 Massachusetts criminal cases linked to a rogue chemist who falsified results while working at a state evidence laboratory, all of the cases should be dismissed, a civil rights group says.

More than two years after the faked test results by chemist Annie Dookhan came to light, the state still has not come up with an appropriate comprehensive approach to resolve the situation, and this threatens defendants’ due process rights, says the ACLU of Massachusetts in a petition filed Thursday with the state supreme court.

The ACLU says the burden should be put on prosecutors to decide which cases to refile within six months after all of the cases are dismissed. Prosecutors also should be barred from pressuring defendants to accept pleas by seeking more severe penalties than those originally imposed, the Boston Globe (sub. req.) reports.

WBUR provides a link to the filing (PDF).

“The alternative to this approach has been tried, and it has failed,” said legal director Matthew R. Segal.

The state, so far, has not even identified all of the cases that Dookhan worked on, he told the Globe, let alone notified defendants’ lawyers and set hearing dates.

“The attorney general has said that the response to the Hinton lab scandal has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars, yet all that money has not even brought a list of docket numbers, let alone justice. It’s time for a smarter approach.”

Dookhan, 36, was sentenced last year to a three-to five-year prison term after being convicted of obstruction of justice and evidence-tampering.

Lawyers for defendants seeking review of their cases have argued that procedures at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain were problematic generally and an investigation by the inspector general’s office is ongoing. Dookhan worked at the lab for over a decade. It was shut down in 2012.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Crime labs under the microscope after a string of shoddy, suspect and fraudulent results”

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