Prosecutors move to toss thousands of tainted drug cases
BOSTON — Prosecutors moved to throw out more than 21,000 drug convictions Tuesday, five years after a chemist at the state drug lab was caught tampering with evidence and falsifying tests.
The state’s highest court had ordered district attorneys in seven counties to produce lists by Tuesday indicating how many of approximately 24,000 cases involving Annie Dookhan they would be unable or unwilling to prosecute if the defendants were granted new trials.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said Tuesday night that 21,587 cases had been recommended for dismissal. It said that would be the largest dismissal of criminal convictions in U.S. history.
The cases would be formally dismissed by court action, expected Thursday, the ACLU said.
“Today is a major victory for justice and fairness, and for thousands of people in the commonwealth who were unfairly convicted of drug offenses,” Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said Tuesday in a statement.
Dookhan — whose coworkers called her Superwoman because she worked so fast — pleaded guilty in 2013 to obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence after being accused of falsifying her work as far back as 2004. She was sentenced to three years in prison and was paroled last year.
Many of the drug case defendants have already completed their sentences, although some probably remain in prison because of other charges not contaminated by the lab scandal. About 2,000 cases had been resolved before Tuesday.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose jurisdiction includes Boston, moved on Tuesday to dismiss all but 117 of the approximately 7,500 suspect cases there. The remaining cases, he said, involve people with a history of violent crime and probation violations.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe moved for dismissal of more than 1,000 cases. Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said his office is seeking to throw out more than 1,500.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said there are nine cases her office would prosecute again if a motion for a new trial were granted.
While it’s unknown how many cases Dookhan falsified, her conduct cast a cloud over the many thousands she worked on.