State could pay ‘north of $10 million’ to reimburse defendants in drug lab scandals
An assistant state attorney general estimates it could cost “north of $10 million” to reimburse fees and fines of defendants whose convictions were thrown out because of a pair of drug lab scandals in Massachusetts, court records show.
Answering a question from a state Supreme Court justice, Robert E. Toone said he thought the state would have to pay “a large amount of money” to defendants to compensate them for fines and fees they had to pay because of their convictions.
Tens of thousands of convictions have been vacated because of the misconduct of Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the state’s Hinton drug lab in Jamaica Plain, and another former chemist, Sonja Farak, who worked at an Amherst drug lab.
“I would imagine, once you combine the Dookhan-Farak defendants, it’s probably north of $10 million,” Toone said during an appearance before the state’s high court on Friday. “That is only my personal estimate.”
On Friday, the court heard two cases together in which defendants’ convictions were vacated in connection with Dookhan’s misconduct.
One of the cases was out of Haverhill, in which Jose A. Martinez had three drug convictions vacated and the charges dismissed because of Dookhan’s malfeasance, according to court filings. The other matter arose from two cases involving Stephanie Green out of Framingham District Court. Green had convictions vacated in 2017 because of an SJC ruling related to the Dookhan scandal, according to court filings.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office emphasized Tuesday that the $10 million figure was a rough estimate, and there are a number of variables that would determine such a dollar figure, including multiple cases before the SJC.
Dookhan’s drug lab scandal resulted in the dismissal of more than 21,000 criminal cases last year. Earlier this year, the state’s top court issued an order that vacated an estimated 11,000 convictions in 7,700 criminal cases in connection with the Farak scandal.
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 prison. She was paroled in 2016.
Farak, a chemist at an Amherst lab, was arrested in January 2013 and charged with stealing from evidence and using drugs while analyzing samples, after a colleague noticed samples were missing from the evidence safe.
She pleaded guilty to stealing from narcotics evidence in January 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.
Later, a judge determined that two former state prosecutors — Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster — committed misconduct in handling evidence of Farak’s drug use.
At issue in the Martinez case is whether fees paid by a defendant before their conviction was found to be invalid should be reimbursed, and how such a refund should occur.
Martinez paid more than $1,560 in probation supervision fees, $90 in “victim witness assessment,” and $1,000 in restitution to the Haverhill police department, according to court documents. Martinez’s attorney asserts that he is “entitled to the return of all fees that he paid as a result of his now-invalidated convictions.”
In the Green case, Middlesex prosecutors have said that there is a “lack of certainty” as to whether Green paid more than half of a $5,000 fine, and that an evidentiary hearing is needed, according to court filings. Her attorney also argues that more than $1,400 in cash that was seized from her should be returned.
The SJC has taken the cases under advisement.
The cases rely on a US Supreme Court ruling from last year that ordered the state of Colorado to refund fees to a woman who was convicted but later acquitted of felony charges.
Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, said in a Tuesday statement that that office has worked for months to ensure the affected defendants receive the relief they deserve.
According to Gainey, the office has taken the position that certain fines and fees must be returned to so-called Dookhan and Farak defendants whose criminal charges were dismissed.
“In recent years, tens of thousands of defendants whose drug convictions may have been affected by the Dookhan and Farak drug lab scandals have had those convictions vacated and the underlying charges dismissed with prejudice. . . . The duty now falls on the Commonwealth to devise and administer a system for making the necessary refunds of exactions to those thousands of defendants in a manner consistent with due process,” read one filing from the attorney general’s office for the Martinez case in July.
The attorney general’s office has acknowledged that legislative action may be needed to establish a funding source to make the required payments to the affected defendants, something that Toone touched upon during his oral arguments last week.
“Ultimately, obviously, legislative action will be required to implement a global remedy,” he said.
In a separate case, plaintiffs earlier this year filed a federal class-action lawsuit seeking the repayment of probation fees and other fines paid to the state in drug cases that were dismissed due to evidence tampering by Dookhan.
Last year, a federal judge awarded more than $2 million to a man wrongly convicted based on evidence falsified by Dookhan.