Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins has filed a motion to vacate more than 100 drug convictions linked to disgraced lab chemist Annie Dookhan, citing her “sad and desperate need for attention” when she tampered with drug evidence on a massive scale.
The request is the latest chapter in the years-long drug lab scandal involving Dookhan and another former chemist, Sonja Farak. Their misconduct has led to the dismissal of at least 61,000 drug charges in 35,000 cases.
Rollins said Tuesday she is seeking to vacate convictions that prosecutors did not move to dismiss after a 2017 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling. That decision required prosecutors to show they could produce evidence at a retrial, independent of Dookhan’s certification or testimony, that the substance in a given case was actually an illegal drug.
Such cases "are forever tainted by egregious and reprehensible government misconduct — even if fresh convictions were to be obtained without Dookhan’s involvement,'' Rollins said in a statement. “No defendant impacted by this ignominious chapter of Massachusetts law enforcement history should continue to bear the burden of Dookhan’s deceit, her sad and desperate need for attention, and the enormous amount of harm she inflicted upon so many.”
Rollins said her predecessor, Daniel F. Conley, declined to dismiss 117 cases, 108 of which were covered by her motion. A “handful” of the remaining cases already had new trial motions granted as well as dismissals or renegotiated plea agreements, Rollins said.
“In these cases, there were mandatory minimums that make it infinitely easier to persuade and leverage defendants to plead guilty,'' Rollins said. Rollins cited a recent Harvard Law School study that found that Superior Court cases involving Black and Latino defendants are more likely to include a charge with a mandatory minimum sentence.
Rollins also noted the “unprecedented challenges” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“With courts struggling to reopen and prosecutors and public defenders being furloughed, it makes little sense to expend additional resources litigating Dookhan cases, some of which are more than 15 years old,” Rollins said.
In May, Rollins asked the SJC to vacate the guilty pleas of 64 people. Those matters are pending, her office said.
“This shameful chapter of our history will take dedication and perseverance to undo, and I will and we must,” Rollins said.
Farak was arrested in 2013 and convicted the following year of stealing drug evidence at the state lab in Amherst. She admitted tampering with drug samples obtained during criminal investigations by replacing the narcotics with other substances to sustain her drug habit.
Separately, Dookhan tampered with evidence while working as a testing chemist at the Hinton laboratory in Boston. The lab no longer plays a role in forensic testing in criminal drug investigations.
Officials determined Dookhan was involved in more than 40,000 cases at the Hinton lab from 2003 to 2012. She admitted to filing false test results and mixing drug samples, and to later lying under oath about her job qualifications. She said she lied only to boost her work performance.
Dookhan pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her tampering with evidence and received a three-to-five-year prison term.
Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.