When a person is prosecuted for a drug crime in Massachusetts, the evidence is sent to a state laboratory where scientists run test to prove that the substance in question is, in fact, an illegal drug. In most instances, the results of these tests end up being a major part of the prosecution’s case. Without them, it becomes very difficult to prove the defendant was guilty of selling or possessing illegal drugs. Sadly, it appears that an untold number of Massachusetts criminal defendants may have been subject to miscarriages of justice resulting from faulty drug lab tests.
In September 2012, one of the lab’s chemists was arrested on obstruction of justice charges. Prosecutors say she faked test results, mixed drug samples and falsified important paperwork. The chemist is also alleged to have lied about having a master’s degree. The drug lab was closed in the wake of the scandal. The next month, a Massachusetts state prosecutor resigned after evidence revealed email and phone correspondence between him and the chemist. The communications apparently violated protocol and caused some to worry about possible bias. The Norfolk District Attorney’s office has said that there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the prosecutor.
As Many as 34,000 Cases Affected
During her nine years working at the lab, the chemist was responsible for more than 60,000 drug tests involving more than 34,000 criminal defendants. Following the allegations, the validity of a significant number of related convictions was put into jeopardy. Many of the people convicted with potentially faulty drug evidence are challenging their convictions in court. Some have been temporarily released from prison after posting bail and agreeing to GPS monitoring, curfews and other restrictions.
Attorneys representing these individuals predict that many will have their cases dismissed. Others are preparing to appeal their cases. The challenges are coming at a great cost to the Massachusetts legal system – in late October, the state’s judiciary system asked for $8.7 million to deal with legal challenges. In addition, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has requested $15 million to handle the fallout from the drug lab crisis.
Challenging Faulty Evidence
Anyone who has been convicted of a Massachusetts drug crime in recent years would be wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney to determine whether questionable evidence may have played a role in their conviction. However, the Massachusetts drug lab scandal also highlights a much larger issue: in any criminal prosecution, it is extremely important that the evidence is accurate and trustworthy. Problems with testing, chain of custody or search and seizure violations can make evidence inadmissible in court. Every defendant has a right to a fair trial, and no one should ever be convicted on evidence that is not completely sound.