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January 18, 2017

Top Massachusetts court adopts "new protocol for case-by-case adjudication" of over 20,000 drug convictions tainted by misconduct of lab chemist

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today issues a huge new ruling to try to resolve a huge old problem caused by drug lab misconduct. The start of the opinion in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, No. SJC 12157 (Mass. Jan. 18, 2017)(available here), provides the back-story and the essential:

We once again confront the tragic legacy of the misconduct of Annie Dookhan when she was employed as a chemist at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute (Hinton lab). In Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 471 Mass. 465, 487 (2015) (Bridgeman I), the petitioners and the intervener, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), asked that we exercise our broad powers of superintendence to vacate the thousands of drug convictions affected by Dookhan's misconduct because the time and expense of case-by-case adjudication had become "untenable."  We declined at that time to adopt their proposed "global remedy."  However, the district attorneys have now provided the single justice with lists identifying more than 20,000 defendants who could be eligible for relief based on Dookhan's misconduct but who have not yet sought relief from their drug convictions.  As a result of the number of potentially aggrieved defendants, the single justice issued a reservation and report to the full court that essentially invites us to reconsider whether the time has come for a global remedy or whether further steps must be taken to realistically implement the remedy of case-by-case adjudication of potentially thousands of motions for a new trial.

After such reconsideration, we decline to adopt the district attorneys' argument that we should stay the course we had previously set and take no further action to protect the rights of the "relevant Dookhan defendants."  We also decline to adopt the petitioners' request for a global remedy in which we would either vacate the convictions of all relevant Dookhan defendants with prejudice, and thereby bar any reprosecution, or vacate the convictions without prejudice, and allow the Commonwealth one year to reprosecute, dismissing with prejudice all cases not reprosecuted within that time period.

We instead adopt a new protocol for case-by-case adjudication, which will occur in three phases, and order its implementation by the single justice in the form of a declaratory judgment.  In the first phase, the district attorneys shall exercise their prosecutorial discretion and reduce the number of relevant Dookhan defendants by moving to vacate and dismiss with prejudice all drug cases the district attorneys would not or could not reprosecute if a new trial were ordered.  In the second phase, new, adequate notice shall be approved by the single justice and provided to all relevant Dookhan defendants whose cases have not been dismissed in phase one.  In the third phase, CPCS shall assign counsel to all indigent relevant Dookhan defendants who wish to explore the possibility of moving to vacate their plea or for a new trial.  If the number seeking counsel is so large that counsel cannot be assigned despite CPCS's best efforts, the single justice will fashion an appropriate remedy under our general superintendence authority for the constitutional violation, which may include dismissing without prejudice the relevant drug convictions in cases where an indigent defendant is deprived of the right to counsel.

We recognize that the implementation of this protocol will substantially burden the district attorneys, CPCS, and the courts.  But we also recognize that Dookhan's misconduct at the Hinton lab has substantially burdened the due process rights of many thousands of defendants whose convictions rested on her tainted drug analysis and who, even if they have served their sentences, continue to suffer the collateral consequences arising from those convictions.  And we recognize as well that, more than four years after Dookhan's misconduct was revealed, more than 20,000 defendants who are entitled to a conclusive presumption that egregious government misconduct occurred in their case have yet to receive adequate notice that they may have been victimized by Dookhan's misconduct, that they may file a motion to vacate their drug conviction, and that they have a right to counsel to assist them in the preparation of such a motion.  The remedy we order, challenging as it is to implement, preserves the ability of these defendants to vindicate their rights through case-by-case adjudication, respects the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and maintains the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system in the wake of a laboratory scandal of unprecedented magnitude.

January 18, 2017 at 04:46 PM | Permalink


Holy Moley.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 18, 2017 10:14:33 PM

Refuse to allow decisions to remain. Refuse to cancel all decisions at one time, and allow selection of re-prosecution of the best cases. Instead, consider one decision at a time. Massive lawyer job production for prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges, full hearings and all procedures they require. Rent seeking to perfection.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 18, 2017 11:00:25 PM

Lawyer denier conduct, especially on the appellate bench, violates the procedural due process right of the defendant to a fair hearing, in criminal, tort, and discrimination cases. Congress should remedy this lawyer violation of the constitution. It should sanction all municipalities, all states, and all federal agencies allowing denier statutes and regulations. It should defund all law schools using texts using the feminine pronoun in a denier way.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 19, 2017 9:34:32 AM

David, how can you call this "rent seeking," if all of the parties involved (DAs, PDs, and courts) are on fixed salaries and thus will not receive any extra payment for the extra work they've now been assigned? Its not job production at all, its (unpaid) work production.

Posted by: Curious | Jan 19, 2017 9:57:28 AM

David, how can you call this "rent seeking," if all of the parties involved (DAs, PDs, and courts) are on fixed salaries and thus will not receive any extra payment for the extra work they've now been assigned? Its not job production at all, its (unpaid) work production.

Posted by: Curious | Jan 19, 2017 9:57:28 AM

Interesting. Your due process rights were deliberately infringed by a state actor, and you get to sit in jail while it's worked out.

"and maintains the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system." Pure unadulterated Orwellian bullshit.

The system screwed up, badly. A correct characterization: "This order, we hope, is the best way to correct a serious injustice impacting the entire Commonwealth. This order will don't do perfect justice, and this debacle will be a permanent stain on our justice system."

What possesses people to be so dishonest?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 19, 2017 10:38:11 AM


His theory is that it's rent for the lawyer profession, not for these particular lawyers. That decisions like the above help ensure lawyer jobs at the expense of everyone else (that, for instance, a decision like this might ensure employment for another lawyer that would otherwise have to search for a producing job rather than sucking off the public teat).

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 19, 2017 11:00:13 AM

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