One Massachusetts district attorney has taken a step to wipe away tens of thousands of criminal convictions tied to the years of fake or nonexistent testing at the state's drug lab.
That move by Suffolk DA Rachel Collins – in which she filed a court motion to delete the cases – should be replicated in every county in the state.
A huge number of criminal cases hinged on drug testing done at the now-closed Hinton Lab, where chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak worked. Investigations showed those two chemists either failed to test material relating to criminal cases, substituted results from other tests or mixed up evidence in tests so nothing they filed could be viewed as reliable in court cases. Both women were charged and convicted for their fraudulent work at the lab.
This scandal has dragged on far too long. Even before Rollins filed her motion to dismiss cases in her county, more than 35,000 drug convictions had been dismissed; the state has shelled out more than $30 million in this scandal so far and there appears to be end to the cost without terminating all of the cases.
Besides the cost, the sheer magnitude of the criminal cases called into question is stunning. Rollins is seeking to resolve drug convictions linked to the lab between May 2003 and August 2012, when it was closed by the state. That's nine years of unreliable drug testing affecting tens of thousands of convictions.
Dookhan, who served about three years in prison for her fraudulent work, didn't set out to wreck countless court cases. She claimed at the time she was trying to rack up a high number of completed tests in what she believed was a competitive environment at the lab. Farak reportedly had a drug addiction and was using some of the drug evidence for her own consumption. Neither woman could have predicted what damage their malfeasance would wreak.
But the damage has been done, in large part to thousands of defendants who might not have been guilty of drug use or possession, as well as to the credibility of the state's evidence analysis system.
All the DAs in Massachusetts should file similar motions in their county courts to vacate criminal convictions that have any tie to this drug lab scandal. It's long past time to put this sorry chapter of a broken part of the state's law enforcement system behind us.