Surpreme Judicial Court Justice, Associate Justice Margot Botsford, has requested that state’s highest court dismiss thousands of the drug convictions that Annie Dookhan had handled evidence for. Based on a petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Botsford submitted a five-page report, in which she also describes the need for a more ‘systematic approach’ to the convicted cases tied to Dookhan. Supported by the ACLU, Botsford believes the Dookhan case needs to be taken more seriously, and that the issue of mishandled evidence is more profound than the court believes.
Background Annie Dookhan was arrested and charged in 2012 with a total of 27 charges- including counts of obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and perjury. In November 2013, the chemist pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3-5 years jail time. Responsible for over 40,000 cases during her 10 year career at the Boston lab, Massachusets govenor Deval Patrick closed the entire lab and ordered prosecutors to reevaluate cases tied to her work.
The ACLU Petition
In the petition filed by the ACLU, the union suggests that the state failed in serving the convicted defendants involved cases tied to Dookhan’s work. The ACLU argues that the state should increase their effort in alerting defendants about both the possibility of tainted evidence and the possibility of a new hearing.
If the petition goes fourth, there are a couple of things that would happen:
• The court would dismiss all cases linked to Dookhan and prosecutors would be given 90 days to decide whether they want to re-prosecute.
• If prosecutors wish to re-prosecute, they are disallowed from seeking harsher sentences than had originally been given.
• Although every case tied to Dookhan will be considered as ‘suspicious’, defendants are responsible for proving that they would not have pleaded guilty if they were aware that their evidence could have been mishandled.
According to the Boston Globe will hear the petition, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley believes the court is likely to reject the request, describing it as “transparent, self-serving demands to exploit a crisis that is finally under control”.
The criminal investigation in the Dookhan matter highlights the role of mishandled evidence in criminal cases, and the profound impact that it has on the outcome of a case. Botsford is essentially accusing the court of disserving convicted defendants, denying them of full access to justice. If a case is based on tainted evidence, it can damage the entire outcome of the case. Scientific evidence is highly valued by the court and can often sway a verdict, misinforming expert witnesses, misleading the jury and disheartening an innocent defendant.
As a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer, it is clear that the petition should be allowed. Given the criminal activity in the State lab, the evidence that lead to convictions is unreliable and cannot support the standard required for a criminal conviction of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Had the Commonwealth had video cameras at the crime lab, perhaps the extent of the criminal activity could have been known. But with no way to limit the scope of the contamination of evidence the Court should acknowledge there is only one proper solution to vacate the convictions.