Amicus brief argues that drug charges in all unresolved cases should be presumptively dropped,
subject to DA's ability to re-try certain cases within a limited time frame
The Boston Bar Association (BBA) has filed an amicus brief urging the Commonwealth's highest court to vacate all outstanding drug convictions among the more than 24,000 cases in which disgraced drug-lab employee Annie Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist. This follows on the findings and recommendations of our 2014 Drug Lab Crisis Task Force Report which called for the prompt resolution of open criminal cases related to Dookhan's misconduct as well as increased and improved oversight of drug labs.
In the matter known as Bridgeman v. District
Attorney , the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is once again being asked to review a set of cases in which defendants were convicted, or pled guilty, based at least partly on evidence tainted by (in the words of the SJC) the "egregious misconduct" of state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan. In the years since the Task Force issued its report, all stakeholders in the criminal justice system have worked diligently to address both open and closed cases affected by Dookhan's misconduct. Despite these efforts, however, an already overburdened criminal justice system is now confronted with the stark reality that there are more than 20,000 unresolved cases impacted by Dookhan's malfeasance. The BBA submits that the SJC should now impose a global remedy that secures access to justice and the fair administration of justice for each of the defendants in these cases and, critically, takes a significant step toward bringing the Dookhan scandal to a final resolution.
In light of Dookhan's malfeasance and its widespread impact, all tainted drug-related charges should be vacated, while leaving in place any other charges, and the burden should be on the government to re-prosecute those cases it chooses to pursue, within a limited time-frame to be set by the Court. Otherwise, wrongful convictions will remain in place and continue to carry collateral consequences for defendants as they seek housing, employment, and student loans.
As stated in the brief, written by BBA Amicus Committee Co-Chairs Anthony Scibelli (of Barclay Damon LLP) and Elizabeth Ritvo (of Brown Rudnick LLP), "[D]efendants should not bear the burden of coming forward to address their adverse dispositions. … Allowing these adverse criminal dispositions to stand … is inconsistent with due process and undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system, particularly given the broad impact of Dookhan's malfeasance."
BBA President Carol Starkey (of Conn Kavanaugh, LLP) hailed the amicus brief, saying, "The current case presents an opportunity for the judicial system to reaffirm its commitment to fairness and justice. What we are seeking is a remedy to this on-going crisis that will comprehensively address the harm that was caused in these cases. Absent a global remedy, that damage will continue to reverberate indefinitely."
Read more about the Bridgeman case and our
brief in our Issue Spot blog post: BBA Amicus Advocates for Resolution in Dookhan Scandal.