Con­vic­tions dis­missed in tainted drug cases

Court sides with Pub­lic Coun­sel

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By MARIE SZANISZLO — marie.szaniszlo@boston­her­ald.com

The state’s high­est court has or­dered thou­sands of drug con­vic­tions that hinged on drug tests at a state lab to be dis­missed due to “in­ten­tional” and “egre­gious” mis­con­duct by one of the lab’s chemists and two former as­sis­tant at­tor­neys gen­eral.

The Supreme Ju­di­cial Court’s unan­i­mous rul­ing af­fects all con­vic­tions based on ev­i­dence tested at the Amherst lab from Jan. 1, 2009, to Jan. 18, 2013, when former state chemist Sonja Farak was ar­rested, as well as all metham­phetamine con­vic­tions based on drugs tested dur­ing her nine-year ten­ure.

Jus­tice Frank M. Gaziano, writ­ing for the court, said Farak tam­pered with drug ev­i­dence to sat­isfy her ad­dic­tion, and two former as­sis­tants to then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral Martha Coak­ley — Anne Kacz­marek and Kris Fos­ter — failed to re­veal what they learned about the chemist.

In 2014, Farak was sen­tenced to 18 months in jail af­ter she pleaded guilty to tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence. Kacz­marek and Fos­ter no longer work for the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

Ear­lier this year, 11 district at­tor­neys agreed to va­cate all the cases in which Farak per­son­ally had an­a­lyzed ev­i­dence, but they said there was no need to dis­miss more than those 11,000. The Com­mit­tee for Pub­lic Coun­sel Ser­vices and civil rights ad­vo­cates sued, ar­gu­ing that an­other 8,000 con­vic­tions should be va­cated due to Farak’s un­fet­tered ac­cess to the lab.

Gaziano agreed with the pe­ti­tion­ers that the gov­ern­ment mis­con­duct was “so in­ten­tional and so egre­gious” that the “very strong medicine of dis­missal with prej­u­dice is re­quired,” mean­ing the cases can­not be re­tried.

“Ab­sent a pro­tec­tive or­der,” Gaziano said, “no pros­e­cu­tor, whether in the of­fice of the at­tor­ney gen­eral or in the of­fice of a district at­tor­ney, has the author­ity to de­cline to dis­close ex­cul­pa­tory in­for­ma­tion.”

The con­vic­tions’ dis­missals are nec­es­sary, he added, both “to pro­tect the in­tegrity of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and to af­ford relief to de­fen­dants whose con­vic­tions may have rested upon tam­pered ev­i­dence.”

An­thony Benedetti, chief coun­sel of the Com­mit­tee for Pub­lic Coun­sel Ser­vices, the statewide pub­lic de­fender of­fice, said the court’s de­ci­sion will “not only de­liver jus­tice to thou­sands of our clients who were wrong­fully con­victed, but ... also sends a clear mes­sage that mis­con­duct by the prose­cu­tion will not be tol­er­ated in Mass­a­chu­setts.”

In a state­ment yes­ter­day, Emalie Gainey, a spokes­woman for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Maura Healey, said: “We are grate­ful to the court for its thought­ful opin­ion and its com­mit­ment to jus­tice for the Farak de­fen­dants. We share that com­mit­ment and wel­come the role the court has given our of­fice to help fa­cil­i­tate no­tice to im­pacted de­fen­dants and se­cure com­pre­hen­sive and speedy relief. AG Healey and her ad­min­is­tra­tion are fully com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that the mis­takes of the past never hap­pen again.”

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER EVANS

OVER­TURNED: Sonja Farak, seen at her 2013 ar­raign­ment on charges that she stole drugs while work­ing at a state crime lab, led the Supreme Ju­di­cial Court to throw out all con­vic­tions based on ev­i­dence pro­cessed at the Amherst lab where she worked.

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