Massachusetts Prosecutors to Throw Out 8,000 Convictions in Second Drug Lab Scandal

Sonja Farak, left, stands during her 2013 arraignment after being charged with stealing drugs and tampering with evidence while working as a chemist in a Massachusetts drug lab. Prosecutors are now poised to dismiss 8,000 cases Farak worked on over eight years.

Prosecutors from across Massachusetts have tallied more than 8,000 convictions they say will be dismissed because they are tainted by a scandal at the state drug lab, according to new court filings by the Massachusetts attorney general.

The cases involved analysis by lab chemist Sonja Farak, who was both testing and consuming drugs seized by the police for eight years.

Prosecutors indicated they will seek to preserve convictions in some of the cases Farak handled, either through retesting or other evidence. But the state’s public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union are seeking a blanket dismissal of all Farak’s cases and further sanctions to deter prosecutorial misconduct such as the kind that delayed the full exposure of Farak’s misadventures for years, resulting in some defendants spending more years in prison.

The list compiled by prosecutors marks a key step in resolving the second debacle from the Massachusetts drug lab scandal.

This year, Massachusetts prosecutors had to erase more than 21,500 drug convictions because of the actions of lab chemist Annie Dookhan, who admitted contaminating, falsifying or not testing drugs in her Boston-area lab over eight years. The state public defender service and the ACLU convinced the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, that mass dismissal was more efficient than individually retrying 24,000 cases with 20,000 defendants. Prosecutors compiled a list of cases for dismissal and a small number, about 1.5 percent, where it would seek to preserve the conviction. The high court also ordered the prosecutors to send a court-approved letter to all affected defendants and establish a phone number to public defenders for defendants needing guidance — all at government expense.

That process, all sides agree, can be used again in trying to clean up the Farak mess. But reaching this stage was delayed because two assistant attorneys general, Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster, withheld evidence that showed that Farak’s drug-fueled escapades, including cooking and smoking drugs in the state lab in Amherst, Mass., had lasted for eight years, not six months as they initially claimed. The attorney general’s office prosecuted Farak after she was arrested in January 2013 — and Farak pleaded guilty in January 2014 — but Kaczmarek and Foster repeatedly refused to provide either prosecutors or defense attorneys with Farak’s own notes and records showing she had been in drug treatment for years. It was only after the high court ordered an investigation into Farak that it was revealed she had been using the lab’s drug supplies from the day she started in August 2004 to the day of her arrest in 2013.

Former Massachusetts assistant attorney general Anne Kaczmarek, who prosecuted disgraced drug lab chemist Sonja Farak in 2013 but withheld details of her drug use from defendants whose cases she had handled. A judge who heard her testimony said her conduct was “reprehensible” and “tampered with the fair administration of justice.”

“Foster and Kaczmarek piled misrepresentation upon misrepresentation,” Superior Court Judge Richard J. Carey wrote last June, “to shield the mental health work sheets from disclosure to the drug lab defendants.” The delay in revealing Farak’s misconduct caused some defendants to wrongly spend years in prison, the judge found. “Kaczmarek and Foster compounded and aggravated the damage caused by Farak. Their intentional and deceptive actions ensured that justice would certainly be delayed, if not outright denied.”

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Filming Cops
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Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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