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You can’t bank prison time and use it for a future conviction, SJC rules, even if the sentence was unjust

People can bank money — they can’t bank prison time, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday.

The state’s highest court rejected the idea that a defendant whose drug conviction was overturned due to government misconduct should be allowed to “bank” prison time to draw on when they face incarceration on some other charge in the future.

“The defendant is not entitled to receive mandatory credit for time served on a prior, wholly unrelated charge,” Justice David Lowy wrote for the unanimous court.

The ruling stemmed from the Amherst drug lab scandal, in which state chemist Sonja Farak used drugs seized by police to feed her addiction and then filed reports falsely claiming that materials she substituted for the drugs were real, often leading people to plead guilty and be sentenced to prison.

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One such person was Braulio Caliz. He served nine months in prison in 2012 on a Farak-related conviction that has since been voided, one of 24,000 prosecutions wiped out because of Farak’s actions and the failure of then-Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office to disclose the full extent of Farak’s actions to defendants, the SJC said.

Caliz and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued that the injustice of losing one’s freedom due to government misdeeds should be acknowledged by the creation of a prison time “bank” account available for future convictions.

Caliz wanted to tap the “bank” and deduct 717 days from the new sentence he faces for a 2017 drug conviction.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Elspeth B. Cypher offered a more straightforward reason for shutting down the “bank” idea.

“Allowing such a credit is inappropriate because it would give anyone who held it license to commit potentially serious crimes without fear of significant repercussion,” she wrote. “Jail credit for future use is not appropriate, as it defeats the purposes of sentencing and creates a public safety risk.”

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An alternative to those ensnared in what Lowy described as one of the “biggest scandals in the Commonwealth’s justice system in decades” is to seek compensation through a civil lawsuit, the SJC said.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.