A decade-old scandal at a Massachusetts crime lab — which led authorities to dismiss tens of 1000’s of drug convictions — might contain wrongdoing by extra individuals than was beforehand identified, in response to a current court docket order.
A state Superior Court docket decide stated in a ruling associated to the discharge of a trove of state investigative supplies that there’s proof that different workers on the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute — past disgraced former chemist Annie Dookhan — might have engaged in misconduct. At the very least one individual was referred to the state lawyer basic’s workplace in 2015 for potential prosecution, Choose John T. Lu wrote final week.
The ruling stokes lingering doubts about statements by the state inspector basic’s workplace over the previous eight years that Dookhan was the “sole dangerous actor” on the Hinton lab. And it means the huge scandal might develop.
“It is a vital growth. It justifiably raises questions in regards to the prison convictions that the lab helped to provide with or with out Annie Dookhan’s involvement,” stated Matthew Segal, the authorized director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who has led the struggle by protection legal professionals to unearth the huge misconduct at a pair of government-run Massachusetts labs that prompted the state’s highest court docket to dismiss 61,000 drug expenses.
Dookhan’s misconduct on the Hinton lab was uncovered in 2012, after she had labored there for practically a decade. She admitted to tampering with proof, forging check outcomes and mendacity about it, in response to court docket information. She served three years in jail and was launched in 2016. Most people she helped convict of low-level drug offenses pleaded responsible and completed their sentences lengthy earlier than she was prosecuted, in response to protection legal professionals. Greater than 21,000 circumstances she labored on have been dismissed.
Lu’s ruling Sept. 16 is related to circumstances in Middlesex County during which defendants are difficult drug convictions primarily based on proof that protection attorneys say was processed on the Hinton lab — not by Dookhan, however by different chemists, together with Sonja Farak.
Farak labored on the Hinton lab from 2002 to August 2004 earlier than she moved to a state lab in Amherst, the place she fed a drug dependancy by utilizing samples she was imagined to be analyzing in prison circumstances, in response to court docket information. She pleaded responsible in 2014 to tampering with proof and drug theft expenses and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Greater than 16,000 circumstances she labored on have been dismissed.
Farak has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection together with her work at Hinton.
Farak and Dookhan couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.
The Middlesex County defendants are difficult their convictions, saying the state did not particularly examine Farak and different chemists whereas they labored at Hinton.
“We’ve got to unravel what occurred at Hinton,” stated James P. McKenna, who represents two of the Middlesex defendants convicted with proof examined by chemists aside from Dookhan.
Former Massachusetts Inspector Common Glenn A. Cunha, who retired this yr, stated in 2019 that his workplace by no means particularly investigated Farak’s work at Hinton. Cunha didn’t instantly reply to an e mail requesting remark.
Dookhan’s and Farak’s misconduct and the fallout have been a persisting embarrassment for the state, and so they have upended its prison justice system. The state public defender’s workplace estimated final yr that as many as 250,000 convictions resulted from lab work on the now-closed Hinton lab when Dookhan, Farak and different chemists labored there.
Hundreds of wrongly convicted individuals went to jail or jail or misplaced their jobs, houses and parental rights, in response to protection legal professionals.
In June, the state agreed to pay as a lot as $14 million to settle a class-action lawsuit to reimburse greater than 30,000 wrongfully convicted defendants for the fines and charges they paid the state in prosecutions primarily based on problematic crime lab checks. The state has additionally spent greater than $30 million for different prices related to investigating and addressing the hurt of the scandal.
Lu’s ruling final week, which ordered that the defendants be given entry to state paperwork during which the names of individuals talked about within the Hinton investigation are usually not redacted, makes it clear that the inspector basic’s issues in regards to the Hinton drug lab went past Dookhan. The ruling says that “it has change into evident that the OIG made and/or thought of a number of prison referrals to the Legal professional Common for different individuals on the Hinton Drug Lab.”
In June 2015, the inspector basic’s workplace referred one matter to the lawyer basic’s workplace for doable prosecution “primarily based on check outcomes from an unbiased out-of-state laboratory, which had been inconsistent with the Hinton Drug Lab outcomes, suggesting that prison acts might have been dedicated by one other individual on the Hinton Lab,” Lu wrote.
“Additionally, there have been different situations the place different individuals on the lab knew or ought to have identified that sure substances weren’t thought of managed substances below Massachusetts regulation however precipitated certificates of study to be issued stating that the substances had been unlawful, leading to defendants being wrongfully convicted,” he wrote.
Lu didn’t disclose the identities of these individuals in his ruling, and quite a few information stay below seal. Lu’s order barred all events to the circumstances from sharing particulars of the newly unredacted state investigation paperwork.
In 2014, the inspector basic stated in a report that Dookhan was the “sole dangerous actor” on the Hinton crime lab, and the inspector basic’s workplace has restated that quite a few occasions since then, at the same time as protection attorneys and judges have raised questions in regards to the scope of the inspector basic’s $6 million investigation.
A spokesperson for state Legal professional Common Maura Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined to remark when she was requested what motion — if any — the lawyer basic’s workplace took as soon as it obtained the 2015 referral.
A spokesman for the inspector basic’s workplace declined to remark, citing ongoing litigation.