News 01.04.18

A Compelling New Take on a Massachusetts Lab Scandal Tainting Thousands of Drug Arrests

By Innocence Staff

Rolling Stone writer Paul Solotaroff has written an explosive feature detailing gross prosecutorial misconduct by two former attorneys with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office that may have impacted thousands of tainted drug prosecutions.  

Related: Legal Groups Say All Cases Tested By MA Drug Analyst Must Be Dismissed

In 2014, former Amherst drug lab chemist Sonja Farak was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison after it was discovered that she stole and used drugs that she was entrusted to test.

As Solotaroff recounts in detail, Massachusetts attorney Luke Ryan represented two people who were accused of drug charges that Farak had analyzed. Initially prosecutors claimed that Farak had only been using on the job and stealing the drugs for four months prior to her arrest to September 2012. But that didn’t add up to Ryan, and he continued to pursue the truth even after his own clients were sent to prison.  

In 2016, in the wake of Ryan’s own investigation, a Massachusetts court conducted a six-day evidentiary hearing to explore what the state knew about Farak’s past drug use and misconduct. Just a few weeks after Farak was arrested, a detective assigned to investigate the case emailed an assistant attorney general with copies of documents seized from Farak’s car documenting that her drug use on the job began at least thirteen months before her arrest in 2013 — including on the specific date that she had tested the samples attributed to one of Ryan’s clients. The detective also notified the AG’s office of information indicating that Farak may have been been stealing and using the drugs she had been entrusted to test as early as 2005.  During the hearing, evidence was presented about the many steps taken by this assistant attorney general and another to keep this information from defendants seeking to challenge their convictions, which the court ultimately concluded constituted “fraud upon the court.”

Related: MA Court Dismisses Drug Convictions in Cases Tainted by Lab Analyst

Massachusetts continues to deal with the fallout from the misconduct. The ACLU of Massachusetts and the Committee for Public Counsel Services has filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to overturn and dismiss all the convictions tainted by Farak and to improve the way the state’s deals with prosecutorial misconduct. (When addressing the state’s misconduct, the court tossed six defendants’ convictions; in response to the Court decision and the ACLU lawsuit, prosecutors have since agreed to dismiss thousands more, while opposing dismissal of others.) Meanwhile, in July 2017, the Innocence Project and Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northwestern Law School, filed a formal complaint against the now former assistant attorney generals with state’s Board of Bar Overseers, which you can read more about here. The Board’s investigation is not public until it is concluded, and both of the former prosecutors continue to be licensed in Massachusetts.

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