Crooked chemist Annie Dookhan has turned Massachusetts into a criminal justice laboratory by creating the perfect conditions for the premature return of hundreds of convicted felons to the streets. Similar to a chemistry experiment, the legal system is about to find out what it is made of and how it reacts to different conditions.
The forced experiment has gone surprisingly well since August when the Patrick administration shuttered the miserably managed state laboratory where Dookhan worked. Court workers in a judicial boiler room are rapidly identifying and prioritizing cases stemming from Dookhan’s admission that she mishandled and falsified drug evidence, potentially jeopardizing 34,000 criminal cases. Special sessions of the Trial Court are expediting those cases. And state prisons are convening special reentry panels to connect freed inmates with the social services that might prevent them from offending again.
This process has just begun, however. Motions to set aside convictions and suppress evidence by the thousands can be expected to rain down on the Commonwealth. And that’s in addition to the immediate need to deal with the more than 1,100 people sent to state and county prisons on potentially tainted evidence. Prosecutors says they will need $50 million to perform a case-by-case analysis of Dookhan’s poisoned portfolio. The defense bar, you can be certain, won’t settle for less.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts rightly warns that the scandal “will trigger an explosion of litigation.’’ Granted, the rights group is no fan of drug prosecutions even when the evidence hasn’t been tainted. But this time, the ACLU makes a powerful argument to dismiss certain categories of cases outright instead of going through years of drawn-out litigation.
This is sound advice, especially in the cases of convicted individuals who were not charged with violent crimes or weapon offenses in addition to their drug charges.
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