Over the last few years, two major drug-testing scandals have marred the reputation of the Massachusetts state criminal justice system and strained the resources of prosecutors. Two individuals who worked as drug testing chemists for the state are responsible for over 40,000 tainted or falsified drug samples that were used to imprison people accused of drug crimes. The issue has yet to be rectified, and people are beginning to wonder what, if any, justice will be served to those whose due process was violated.
When Morality Trumps Reality
Annie Dookhan’s job as a state forensics lab employee required her to test acquired evidence from pending drug crimes cases to confirm whether or not the samples were, in fact, illegal drugs. Getting drugs off the streets was a passion of Dookhan’s, but one she took way too far. In her overzealous nine-year career, Dookhan tested nearly 25,000 samples, many of which she marked as testing positive for drugs without actually testing them. Dookhan’s criminal misconduct was finally discovered in 2012 when she was subsequently fired and jailed for three years.
When Curiosity Trumps Morality
In a second shocking case, another chemist in Amherst with job duties similar to Dookhan’s, became curious about the drugs she was to be testing and began ingesting them herself. Sonja Farak started out with meth, dipping her hand into both submitted evidence and the high-quality control samples on site. She eventually depleted the methamphetamine so much that she moved onto cocaine, crack, LSD, and ecstasy, all while on the job.
A Severely Unjust Impact & Response
Between the two women over nine years, the state prosecutor’s office has identified approximately 42,000 defendants whose cases were tainted. Social justice groups, including the ACLU, demanded to know how the state would remedy this far-reaching criminal justice problem, calling for an immediate overturning of any case in which either woman was involved. Instead, prosecutors have done virtually nothing to aid those affected.
Thus far, only one seemingly intentionally vague letter has been sent to defendants or their families notifying them they may have grounds for retrial without clear instructions. The Spanish version was revealed to be so poorly translated that it was unintelligible. It has now been four years since Dookhan was convicted and only a handful of those affected have had their sentences retried or commuted. The rest may not even be aware that the plea deals they felt compelled to take could be thrown out if retried.
What Happens Next?
The state’s Supreme Judicial Court gave a firm ruling that district attorneys and prosecutors need to amend this situation and worked with them to draft a series of letters to affected defendants. As of now, the letters have not been sent and the ACLU, among other groups, is putting on the pressure. If each affected case were to be retried it would take approximately 48 years to get through them all. Imagine waiting in jail for almost half a century for a crime you did not commit, just to hear, “oops!” The ACLU and many others don’t believe that is considered justice, and that all of them should be thrown out and off the records all at once, now. What do you think is the right solution?