Massachusetts Court Dismisses Drug Convictions in Cases Tainted by Lab Analyst Who Used Illegal Drugs on the Job
06.26.17 By Innocence Staff
(Boston, MA — June 26, 2017) Today a Massachusetts court ruled that some of the drug convictions that were obtained through drug testing performed by Sonja Farak must be dismissed because of the prosecutorial misconduct of attorneys at the Attorney General’s office. The Innocence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and legal ethics experts filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Commonwealth v. Cotto, urging the court to consider the widespread misconduct by the Attorney General’s office in its handling of the matter when crafting a remedy for the cases affected by Farak. The following can be attributed to Innocence Project senior staff attorney Nina Morrison:
When the Attorney General’s office learned the extent of Ms. Farak drug use while on the job, they had an ethical obligation to correct any injustice that may have been caused. Instead, the AG’s office hid information about the extent of cases affected by Ms. Farak’s unreliable work from the defense lawyers and district attorneys who were still litigating cases that were tainted and repeatedly and intentionally made false statements to the court under oath. The court’s detailed findings regarding intentional misconduct by the Attorney General’s office should be relied upon by the high court and other judges who will be called upon to resolve the remaining cases tainted by Ms. Farak. It is impossible to know how many innocent people may have been harmed by this Ms. Farak’s unreliable work, but drug lab tests routinely reveal that not all substances tested are illegal drugs.
During its last year of existence, the Amherst lab found that 302 (or approximately 5.5 percent) of the 5517 samples submitted for testing did not contain a controlled substance.
In ruling to dismiss with prejudice the indictments of some of the people affected by prosecutorial misconduct in the Farak investigation, the court noted: “The nature and scope of governmental misconduct by Kaczmarek and Foster [the prosecutors with the AG’s office that committed misconduct] in withholding evidence was severe. It continued for a prolonged period, in violation of many drug lab defendants’ constitutional rights. It was perpetrated in part through intentional misrepresentations to the court and was pursued to conceal the extent of underlying misconduct by another government actor, Farak. In these rare circumstances, at least with respect to selected drug lab defendants, the deliberate misconduct was so egregious that presumptive prejudice arises, so that dismissal with prejudice is the appropriate prophylactic remedy to deter similar future misconduct.”
A full copy of today’s decision is available here. These cases represent only a small fraction of the thousands of cases tested by Farak at the lab. The court’s findings as to intentional prosecutorial misconduct may well affect how the Massachusetts high court and other courts chose to handle other cases tainted by Farak.
The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
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