DA Rollins asks SJC to vacate 64 defendants’ guilty pleas in drug cases following Dookhan, Farak scandals
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins on Monday asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to vacate the guilty pleas of 64 people in cases indirectly linked to the scandals involving disgraced former drug chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak, whose misconduct has prompted the dismissal of at least 61,000 drug charges in Massachusetts.
In a statement Monday, Rollins’s office said she asked the SJC to toss the pleas of 64 people who pleaded guilty to a combined 91 drug charges before their substances could be tested by the state’s “scandal-tainted drug laboratory.” Testing eventually confirmed the defendants’ substances weren’t illegal drugs, according to the statement.
The statement said that while the 64 cases “were not specifically impacted (by) Dookhan’s and Farak’s misconduct, reparations are needed.”
Rollins’s request to the SJC came in a filing captioned Commonwealth v. 64 Innocent Individuals, the statement said.
The filing states in part, "Because 64 individuals here accepted accountability, pleaded guilty, and were convicted without receiving exculpatory evidence, their constitutional rights were violated. The Commonwealth now requests that this Court remedy these constitutional violations by vacating their guilty pleas.”
Those words were echoed by Rollins in her office’s statement.
“These cases highlight the pernicious effect of mandatory minimums on plea deals,’’ Rollins said. “Defendants have no bargaining power in plea deals. Faced with long sentences if they go to trial and lose, as well as the threat of additional charges if the deal is not accepted, defendants very often accept a deal. In these specific cases, 64 defendants engaged in the calculus of plea bargaining without knowledge of evidence of their innocence or the gross misconduct in the Hinton Lab. Justice for them is required.”
Rollins’s move comes after Justice Scott L. Kafker of the SJC found in October that the state failed in its duty to investigate the work at a Boston lab of Farak, whose flawed tests at another state lab led to the dismissal of thousands of convictions.
Her misconduct, combined with that of her former coworker, Dookhan, has led to the dismissal of 61,000 drug charges in Massachusetts, the Globe reported in October. Farak was arrested in 2013 and convicted the following year of stealing drug evidence at the state lab in Amherst, where she went to work after leaving the Hinton lab in Jamaica Plain in 2004.
Farak admitted tampering with drug samples obtained during criminal investigations by replacing the narcotics with other substances in order to feed her drug habit.
Separately, Dookhan tampered with evidence while working as a testing chemist at the Hinton laboratory, operated by the Department of Public Health. The lab no longer plays a role in forensic testing in criminal drug investigations. All drug testing is now done by the State Police.
Officials determined that Dookhan was involved in more than 40,000 cases at the Hinton lab from 2003 to 2012.
Dookhan pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her tampering with evidence while working at a state lab in 2013, and she was sentenced to serve three to five years in the custody of the state Department of Correction.
On Monday, Rollins’s office said the issue addressed in her pleading regarding the 64 defendants was initially spotted by attorney Christopher Post of the firm Wood & Nathanson. Post joined the firm after spending five years at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state public defender agency.
“I want to thank former CPCS attorney Christopher Post and former ACLU technologist Paola Villarreal for their outstanding work in identifying this significant miscarriage of justice and bringing it to the attention of my office,” Rollins said. “I also want to thank attorney Luke Ryan for his dogged pursuit of answers for his clients. Without him, we would never have known the extent of the outrageous, deceptive, and criminal behavior occurring in our drug labs.’’
Post was also quoted in the statement put out by Rollins’s team.
“I am grateful that the Suffolk DA’s Office was willing to listen and collaborate on this,’’ Post said. “None of this happened while DA Rollins was in office, but to her credit, she dedicated the time and resources to make sure that justice was ultimately done in these cases.”
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.