News 09.20.17

Legal Groups Say All Cases Tested By Tainted Massachusetts Drug Analyst Must Be Dismissed

By Innocence Staff

In 2014, former Amherst drug lab chemist Sonja Farak was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison after it was discovered that for nearly a decade she stole and used drugs that she was testing. In June, an initial group of the drug convictions secured through Farak’s testing were dismissed based on documentation that she’d tampered with evidence and that prosecutors knowingly concealed information from the defense counsel as well as the Superior Court about the extent and length of Farak’s misconduct and drug abuse. Today, lawyers have filed a position stating the remainder of the convictions linked to Farak—estimated to be in the thousands—need to also be dismissed with prejudice to “restore integrity to the justice system.”

The document—filed by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and attorneys Daniel Marx and William Fick—states that the Superior Court found that the attorney general’s office “purposefully withheld exculpatory evidence about the timing and scope of Farak’s drug abuse, misled defense counsel about that evidence, and committed a fraud on the court in order to minimize the scope of the scandal.”

The attorneys outline that when Farak was arrested in 2013—after she compromised the evidence in thousands of criminal drug cases—the Superior Court held an evidentiary hearing. At that point, the defense counsel tried to obtain important evidence from the Commonwealth, but the attorney general’s office suppressed that evidence and falsely told counsel and the court that all exculpatory evidence had already been disclosed. In 2016, a six-day evidentiary hearing was held to explore why that evidence was withheld.

The Superior Court found that the two assistant attorney generals working on the case engaged in misconduct that “improperly influenced and distorted [the court’s] fact finding and legal conclusions and it unfairly hampered the defendants’ presentation of defenses. Their conduct constitutes a fraud upon the court.”

To make matters worse, states the petition, the Commonwealth has failed to identify and notify those defendants whose convictions are linked to Farak’s testing or to educate them about their rights regarding post-conviction relief.

For these reasons, states the petition, “all Farak cases should be vacated and dismissed with prejudice.” Also, the prosecutors are called on to fulfill their legal obligations and properly identify and notify the thousands of defendants affected by Farak’s misconduct.

You can read the the entire petition and the ACLU’s statement on the filing here. The Innocence Project joined the ACLU in filing a friend-of-the-court brief regarding the prosecutorial misconduct issues in the case and later filed bar complaints against the two former prosecutors.

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