A single justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court on Friday vacated nearly 110 drug convictions in Suffolk County in which disgraced former state chemist Annie Dookhan had tested evidence, as the fallout from the 2012 scandal at the state drug lab continues to grow.
The cases were tossed at the request of Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who said in March that she was launching the Hinton Lab Initiative, an effort to drop charges in tens of thousands of criminal cases that had evidence processed at the former William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain.
Rollins’s office filed the motion to vacate the convictions, mostly of people of color, in November. She said the ruling ensures that Massachusetts taxpayers will not be forced to pay the cost of litigating each case individually.
“Today’s decision is, morally and legally, the right one,” Rollins said in a statement. “No conviction that Annie Dookhan had a role in securing can be allowed to stand now that we understand the full scope and enormity of her malfeasance and the gross mismanagement of the former William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute.”
Authorities 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 in November 2013 to obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, and perjury. She was sentenced to three years in prison and was released in April 2016.
Hinton was run by the state Department of Public Health before the State Police took over drug testing in 2012. The lab no longer plays a role in forensic testing for drug investigations.
The cases vacated Friday were those that state district attorneys did not move to dismiss after a 2017 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling that 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.
Rollins said more than 70 percent of the defendants whose convictions were vacated Friday were Black, Indigenous, or people of color. She said “we still have a long road ahead” to secure justice and vowed to continue working “to correct the enormous harm that has been and continues to be inflicted.”
“The Hinton Lab was so grossly mismanaged that we cannot have confidence in any of the testing performed at the site, tainting every drug conviction the lab was involved in,” she said.
Thousands of drug convictions have been overturned because of the scandal involving Dookhan and another former state chemist, SonjaFarak, and there may be more to come.
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 2004.
She admitted tampering with drug samples obtained during criminal investigations by replacing the narcotics with other substances to feed her drug habit. Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing drug evidence, was sentenced to prison, and has been released.
But it is not only chemists who have been caught up in the scandal. Three former prosecutors could face disbarment after they were accused of misconduct in the Farak case.
The Globe reported in January that nearly 38,000 cases have been dismissed statewide in the scandal, including 16,393 cases where Farak tested the drugs and 21,405 where the chemist was Dookhan.