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editorial

State makes progress on legal mess from drug lab

Just a few months ago, faith in the Massachusetts criminal justice system was at an all-time low. At a state lab in Jamaica Plain, the alleged misconduct of an unprincipled chemist, coupled with managerial ineptitude, had led to the possible tainting of an estimated 60,000 drug samples. Simply identifying all the cases that might have hinged on now-dubious drug tests — never mind resolving those cases — seemed beyond the ability of state officials. Yet there is strong evidence already that the criminal justice system is working effectively to redeem its reputation and rectify injustices.

This week, the attorney in charge of sorting out the mess for the Patrick administration reported finishing the first phase of the investigation after just six weeks on the job. David Meier, a respected former prosecutor, said that he and his staff of about a dozen have identified 10,000 individuals who were prosecuted based on evidence supplied by disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan. That number is sure to climb. But Meier said that his first duty was to tackle high-priority cases, including about 2,000 individuals who were imprisoned or held on bail based on questionable evidence. Judges already have released scores of individuals.

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