BOSTON (AP) — The highest court in Massachusetts has formally approved the dismissal of more than 21,000 drug convictions that were tainted by the misconduct of a former state drug lab chemist.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the final order from the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday marks the single largest dismissal of convictions in U.S. history.
Cape and Islands District Michael O’Keefe said 1,067 cases had to be dismissed locally. He said at least 2,400 cases have been examined since 2012.
The action by the court was expected after seven district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts submitted lists on Tuesday totaling 21,587 cases they would be unwilling or unable to prosecute if new trials were ordered.
The cases were called into question when chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests. Dookhan pleaded guilty to perjury and other charges in 2013 and served a three-year prison sentence.
“The misconduct of a single chemist was allowed to morph into a statewide crisis by the lack of oversight of Governor Patrick’s Department of Public Health,” said O’Keefe.
The ACLU said Tuesday night the final statewide tally is 21,587 cases, which the group says could make it the largest mass dismissal of criminal convictions in U.S. history.
The state Supreme Judicial Court had ordered district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts to produce lists by the end of Tuesday indicating how many of the approximately 24,000 involving Annie Dookhan they’d be unwilling or unable to prosecute if new trials were ordered.
In a statement, O’Keefe said the dismissals did not involve innocent people.
“Let’s keep in mind that we are not dealing with actual innocence here, we are dealing with drug defendants the overwhelming majority of whom plead guilty, went through an exhaustive plea colloquy with a judge and testified under oath that they were ‘pleading guilty because they were guilty and for no other reason,’” according to his statement.
Dookhan pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to three years in prison.