110 Suffolk County Convictions Reversed After Mistakes at Corrupted Crime Laboratory – Tens of Thousands of Other Cases Also Tossed

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Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins speaking in San Francisco in February 2020

By Jose Medina and Benjamin Momtahan

BOSTON – Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins was permitted by the Supreme Judicial Court to vacate last week another 100 drug convictions linked to chemist Annie Dookhan, who admitted in 2013 to falsifying evidence at the state drug lab.

More than 20,000 cases have been tossed with tens of thousands at risk, millions of dollars have been paid to those previously convicted on the false evidence and prosecutors faced disbarment after Dookhan admitted her wrongdoing at Massachusetts Department of Public Health Drug of Abuse laboratory.

Nearly 110 drug offense convictions, which Dookhan had tested drug evidence for, will be vacated under the ruling announced this past week.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins filed a motion to vacate these recent convictions. She has pledged to dismiss Suffolk County drug convictions — an estimated 74,800 — for anyone whose drug certification was done at the Hinton Lab between May 2003 and August 2012.

As the first woman of color to serve as Massachusetts DA, Rollins is a strong advocate for BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) communities, and concluded that “Over 70 percent of the List Three cases in Suffolk County charged a member of the BIPOC community. Those drug offenses – based on tainted evidence – have strained prosecutorial, public defender, and court resources.”

“List Three” cases are those that Massachusetts District Attorneys did not motion to vacate following the Bridgeman and others v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District and others decision.

The decision required District Attorneys to confirm that they could produce evidence at a retrial that the substance at issue matched the drug alleged in a charge.

In 2019, Rollins launched the Integrity Review Bureau (IRB), a first unit of its kind in the nation that examines post-conviction claims of innocence, sentencing disparities, and unjust convictions.

The IRB is overseeing efforts to find a systemic response to the harm caused by the criminal actions of Dookhan and the mismanagement of the Hinton Lab.

Suffolk County cases in which evidence was tested at the now closed lab are all being addressed.

Rollins acknowledged that the long and grueling road towards providing equitable solutions to convictions tainted by the Hinton lab will be a necessary step towards achieving a “global remedy to these injustices.”

The DA viewed the decision to vacate as “a victory and confirmation that we can achieve a global remedy to these injustices” adding that “systemic problems require systemic solutions.”

Rollins gave scathing criticisms that deservedly put Hinton Lab on the spot, stating that the lab “was so grossly mismanaged that we cannot have confidence in any of the testing performed at the site, tainting every drug conviction the lab was involved in.”

Not trying to veer off course towards the long-term goal of enacting justice for these tainted convictions, she emphasized that “as we celebrate this victory, we must continue the work that we have started to correct the enormous harm that has been and continues to be inflicted.”

“These scandals produced two of the largest mass exonerations in the history of our criminal legal system because they were two of the gravest injustices in the history of our criminal legal system,” said Matt Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, one of the lawyers who successfully fought to vacate thousands of cases involving the two chemists.

But, he added, “Anyone who blames these injustices entirely on two chemists, instead of the system that fostered and protected their misconduct, is selling something. “

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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