Criminal Justice

Top state court should toss 24,000 convictions connected to disgraced chemist, ACLU says

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The top court in Massachusetts is being asked to toss more than 24,000 convictions that are linked to a chemist who admitted to tampering with evidence samples to favor law enforcement.

A brief (PDF) filed on Friday argues that public defenders would need 48 years to assign lawyers to each individual defendant, according to a press release and the Boston Herald. The brief, filed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, says the state has labored for four years to litigate each case, yet about 24,000 cases remain unresolved.

The brief was filed on behalf of three drug defendants by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the national ACLU, state public defenders and the law firm Fick & Marx. The case is Bridgeman v. District Attorney.

The chemist, Annie Dookhan, pleaded guilty to charges that included obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering. She served a three-year sentence, according to this Boston Globe article published in July.

“The Dookhan debacle has not been, and never will be, resolved through case-by-case litigation,” the brief says. The convictions of the so-called Dookhan defendants “should be vacated and dismissed,” according to the brief.

The brief points to a second lab scandal that could affect as many as 18,000 cases. “The commonwealth’s indigent defense system has no more capacity to litigate all these cases than it does to build a rocket ship and fly it to Jupiter,” the brief says.

A spokesman for the Suffolk District Attorney’s office told the Boston Herald that the 48-year estimate is exaggerated. “The notion that it would take 48 years to appoint defense counsel is either gross hyperbole or evidence of surprising dysfunction within the defense bar,” Jake Wark said.

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