108 Convictions Tied to Massachusetts Chemist's Misconduct May Be Vacated

November 18, 2020 

Seven years after a disgraced former state chemist pleaded guilty to mishandling drug samples in the Boston lab where she once worked, the reverberations of the case are still being felt.

Hundreds of people have been released from jail since the revelation of wrongdoing by the chemist, Annie Dookhan. In 2017, more than 20,000 cases affected by Ms. Dookhan's misconduct were found to be eligible for dismissal. And this week, the Suffolk County district attorney moved to vacate 108 more convictions, the latest development in the yearslong unraveling.

The district attorney, Rachael Rollins, filed a motion late Monday to vacate 108 cases that involved Ms. Dookhan but that district attorneys did not move to throw out in 2017, when a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling asked prosecutors to certify that they could produce evidence at a retrial independent of Ms. Dookhan's signed drug certificate or testimony, according to a statement from Ms. Rollins's office on Tuesday.

Ms. Rollins, who said the move was meant to "remove a huge stain on the legal system," called the cases "forever tainted by egregious and reprehensible government misconduct."

"No defendant impacted by this ignominious chapter of Massachusetts law enforcement history should continue to bear the burden of Dookhan's deceit, her sad and desperate need for attention, and the enormous amount of harm she inflicted on so many," Ms. Rollins said in the statement.

Image108 Convictions Tied to Massachusetts Chemist's Misconduct May Be Vacated - 17xp chemist1 articleLarge
District Attorney Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County, Mass., called the cases "forever tainted by egregious and reprehensible government misconduct."Credit...Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, she added, "it makes little sense to expend additional resources litigating Dookhan cases, some of which are more than 15 years old."

Ms. Dookhan pleaded guilty in 2013 to 27 counts, including perjury, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison plus two years' probation.

Prosectors said that during her nine-year tenure at a state drug lab in Boston, where she was responsible for processing drug samples seized from suspects, Ms. Dookhan mishandled samples, forged signatures and returned positive results on drugs she had never tested.

The 108 convictions affected by Ms. Rollins's motion had been designated List 3, meaning district attorneys did not try to have the cases vacated in 2017, despite Ms. Dookhan's involvement. According to the statement, the nine remaining List 3 cases had already had new trial motions granted, dismissals entered or a plea agreement negotiated.

"In these cases, there were mandatory minimums that make it infinitely easier to persuade and leverage defendants to plead guilty," Ms. Rollins said of the List 3 cases.

Ms. Rollins's office said it was the first in the state to take such broad action on List 3 cases, adding that "the putrid legacy of Dookhan requires additional fumigation."

Her office is also seeking to vacate the guilty pleas of dozens of individuals who the court found ineligible for relief because they pleaded guilty before receiving test results of drug analysis, and it was concluded that Ms. Dookhan's misconduct did not affect their decision to plead guilty.

In addition to those cases, 7,886 cases in Suffolk County were vacated and dismissed in 2017 "with prejudice," meaning that prosecutors could not pursue the charges again.

"This shameful chapter of our history will take dedication and perseverance to undo," Ms. Rollins said, "and I will and we must."

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