Special court sessions set for Mass. lab scandal

Saturday October 13, 2012

BOSTON -- Special court sessions are scheduled for next week to hear a flood of legal challenges by drug defendants in the wake of a scandal at a Massachusetts drug-testing lab.

Former state chemist Annie Dookhan is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly failing to follow testing protocols and altering results at the now-closed lab.

Judge Christine McEvoy is expected to hear requests to reduce bail, put sentences on hold, withdraw guilty pleas or vacate convictions from up to 180 people who are currently serving time in county jails or state prisons in cases where Dookhan was involved in testing evidence, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley.

The sessions in Suffolk Superior Court are scheduled to begin Monday and run through Oct. 26. Similar sessions have been scheduled in various courts around the state to hear additional challenges.

State officials say Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples involving about 34,000 defendants during her nine years at Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston. Dozens of defendants have been released on bail while prosecutors and defense attorneys try to figure out how to deal with the legal mess created by the scandal.

Many of the hearings are expected to be conducted via videoconference from county jails and prisons. Wark said each day will be devoted to hearing cases from a specific correctional facility.

"The goal right now is to remedy any issues of liberty that may be at stake. If a person is being held -- whether it’s on bail or serving a sentence -- on charges that are not supported by the evidence, we have to fix that," Wark said. "At the same time, we’re looking at collateral convictions -- whether they involve guns or violence or other offenses -- and we intend to preserve those convictions and those sentences."

On Friday, an attorney appointed to lead a review of the cases said many of the defendants who could be affected have already served their time or otherwise had their cases resolved.

David Meier, a former state prosecutor appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick, said state officials believe that many of the 34,000 cases had already made their way through the courts before the lab was shut down in August.

Authorities have identified about 1,140 people who are currently serving sentences in cases where Dookhan participated in testing.

Meier said Friday that officials have identified an additional 800 people who may have had drug samples tested by Dookhan. That includes some people being held on bail awaiting trial, some on parole, and juveniles who were previously placed in state custody.

Dookhan has pleaded not guilty and is free on $10,000 bail.


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