DANVERS — If Jennifer Horrocks is allowed to visit her parents and brother this summer, she might have Annie Dookhan to thank.
Dookhan, the former state chemist charged with falsifying drug test results and lying about her qualifications, never touched the 1.5 ounces of marijuana and 2 grams of hashish that Horrocks was charged with possessing and distributing in 2006.
But Dookhan’s alleged misconduct was the final blow to a case that was dismissed yesterday by a Salem District Court judge.
Horrocks, now 25, was a recent Masconomet High graduate living in Boxford with her parents when she came onto the radar of Danvers police for allegedly selling marijuana.
After what police said were three “hand-to-hand” marijuana sales, Horrocks was arrested and charged with not only peddling drugs, but doing so in a school zone, which carried a mandatory jail sentence of at least two years.
Horrocks opted not to risk a conviction and admitted to sufficient facts in her case, which was continued without a finding for two years on the condition that she complete community service.
Horrocks, a citizen of The Netherlands, later took a trip to Europe with her family. That’s when she learned that she was barred from re-entering the United States. Her parents and brother returned, but she was left behind in London, where she ended up going to school and getting a job.
Her case is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of drug cases that led to either deportation or denial of re-entry to the United States.
Unlike many of the defendants in those cases, however, Horrocks is the daughter of a plastics executive who could afford to pursue a lengthy legal challenge.
Lawyer Jeffrey Rubin took the case. His first order of business was seeking a new trial, on the grounds that her former lawyer had failed to advise her accurately about the potential immigration consequences — something Rubin said yesterday is fairly common, given the lack of understanding about how immigration laws work.
The federal government still viewed the continuation without a finding as a “conviction” that disqualified Horrocks from entering the U.S.
But even when the motion for a new trial was granted in 2010, wiping out the “conviction,” Rubin said, the U.S. consulate in London refused to grant Horrocks a visa — meaning she could not return to the U.S. to stand trial.
They told Horrocks that it was because they considered her to have an open case, Rubin said.
“An open case can mean all sorts of things,” the lawyer said.
So he sought an outright dismissal of the charges.
Though he had succeeded in getting the school zone charges dismissed because it turned out that the alleged transactions had not taken place within 1,000 feet of the school named by Danvers police, the rest of the case remained open.
The prosecution planned to go forward in the case even though the drugs had been destroyed in January 2010 (while Rubin’s new trial motion was pending). Prosecutors had a copy of the certificate of analysis prepared by the drug lab to use at the new trial, if and when it happened.
The case remained open and pending trial, even though nothing could happen because Horrocks couldn’t return to stand trial.
Then the Dookhan scandal broke last year, and Rubin saw an opportunity.
He was hesitant to call it a stroke of luck.
In his new motion to dismiss, Rubin argued that even though a different chemist, Della Saunders, had tested the marijuana and hashish, it was during a time when Dookhan was allegedly tampering with samples.
He pointed to the “serious mishandling and tampering” in the motion.
Prosecutor Patrick Collins opposed the motion, arguing that the samples were not tested by Dookhan. He also expressed concern that granting the dismissal would be unfair to other defendants who have faced deportation as a result of drug charges.
But Judge Robert Brennan granted the motion, citing the problems in the drug lab, as well as the fact that the drug evidence was destroyed while a motion for a new trial was pending, making it impossible to verify the lab results.
Collins said it’s not known yet if the district attorney’s office will appeal.
Rubin said it’s also unclear whether the dismissal will be enough to satisfy the State Department so that Horrocks can return to visit her parents and brother, who are now all legal permanent residents of the United States.
“They still have a lot of discretion,” Rubin said.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.