ACLU, Families Against Mandatory Minimums warn proposed response to drug lab scandal will cost taxpayers, perpetuate injustice

Alternative approach suggested.

Oct. 11, 2012

Raquel Ronzone, Communications Content Specialist, 617-482-3170 x335,
Matthew Segal, Legal Director, 617-482-3170 x330,
Barbara Dougan, Massachusetts Project Director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, 617-543-0878

BOSTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) today called upon Attorney General Martha Coakley and county District Attorneys to support broad-based relief for the victims of the Hinton drug lab scandal and to scrap plans to relitigate tainted cases one by one. In a letter, ACLUM and FAMM warned that a case-by-case approach will "trigger an explosion of litigation," undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system and cost taxpayers more than $100 million.

Chemist Annie Dookhan, who is accused of falsifying tests of drug samples, is associated with at least 34,000 cases--a number that could multiply in light of reports that Dookhan also allegedly forged signatures and had extraordinary communications with prosecutors and police officers. In response to the scandal, special courts have been constituted to relitigate these cases and prosecutors estimate that a case-by-case approach will cost them $50 million. Defense and court costs figure to equal at least that much.

"The spectacular failure of the Hinton lab is a reason to dismiss many of these cases, rather than to spend $100 million re-prosecuting them," said ACLU of Massachusetts Legal Director Matthew Segal. "That expenditure of time and money would be a waste of both."

"Abundant evidence shows that prosecuting drug cases takes a terrible human and financial toll even in cases that do not involve tainted evidence," Segal said. "Accordingly, it makes no sense to re-prosecute tens of thousands of cases that do involve tainted evidence."

The ACLU-FAMM letter details how the proposed case-by-case approach will cost Massachusetts tax payers upwards of $100 million, clog the courts and further undermine the integrity of the state criminal justice system. Instead, Coakley should work with district attorneys to dismiss all cases that (1) do not charge violent crime or weapons offenses; (2) involve a police officer or prosecutor who, at any time, communicated directly with Dookhan; or (3) involve a defendant who has served at least half of his or her sentence.

"It is well documented that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses often do not fit the crime, resulting in disproportionately long sentences for even nonviolent drug offenses,” said Barbara Dougan, FAMM's Massachusetts Project Director. "Thus, at the very least, the evidence in drug cases must be beyond reproach."

"Endorsing this broad-based approach would enable prosecutors to repair the integrity of the Commonwealth's justice system, save taxpayer dollars and assure a consistent statewide approach to these cases," said Segal. "In light of this scandal, it is time for the Commonwealth's leaders to demonstrate their commitment to justice and sound policy."

"It is not time for an expensive, misguided and ill-fated do-over. "

To read a copy of the letter sent by the ACLU and FAMM to Attorney General Coakley, go to:

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