News 05.19.15

Defendants Convicted Because of Tainted Evidence Can Get Risk-Free Retrials

In a decision today by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, defendants convicted based on evidence handled by state chemist Annie Dookhan may seek new trials without the risk of additional charges or a more severe sentence previously avoided via a plea agreement.

Dookhan pled guilty in 2013 of perjury, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence for failing to properly test samples alleged to be illegal substances before declaring them positive, mixing up samples, forging signatures and lying about her credentials. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison and two years of probation.

 

More than 300 convictions were vacated after Dookhan’s plea, but according to the

New York Time

s, thousands more could still be thrown out in light of Dookhan’s misconduct. According to Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Matthew Segal, many defendants have potentially refrained from applying for post-conviction relief because they faced being convicted of previously dropped charges and serving additional prison time.

“This dynamic was causing the entire effort to get justice, due process, causing that effort to come to a screeching halt,” Segal told the

New York Times

. “People were not filing new motions. People were afraid.”

The court did not approve a measure in which all convictions based on evidence handled by Dookhan would be vacated. The motion encourages prosecutors to cooperate by providing information to identify the cases in which Dookhan was involved.

“This decision today is really monumental because it’s going to clear the path for many defendants – thousands, potentially tens of thousands – to pursue relief,” Segal told WGBH. “And that’s great, but it will raise questions about how easily that kind of volume can be dealt with.”

Read the

New York Times

article

here

.

Read the WGBH article

here

.

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