Ending the Drug War

Commonwealth v. Cotto

Art by Hallie Pope

Sonja Farak stole, ingested or manufactured drugs almost every day for eight years while working as a chemist at a state lab in Amherst, Massachusetts. This scandal has thrown thousands of drug cases into question, on top of more than 24,000 cases tainted by a scandal involving ex-chemist Annie Dookhan at the state’s Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain.

But there’s more. After Farak’s arrest in January 2013, state officials claimed that her misconduct had spanned only four or five months. These claims were not true, and it’s unclear how state officials could have believed they were true.


In February 2013, the State Police sent the Attorney General’s Office a document—a “ServiceNet Diary Card”—indicating that Farak’s drug use had lasted at least 13 months, not four or five. Yet defense attorneys seeking more information about Farak’s drug use were told, incorrectly, that they were on a “fishing expedition.” And although Farak pled guilty to four crimes in January 2014, no one on behalf of the state launched a full investigation of Farak until 2015, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court instructed the state to do so.

Consequently, a state report on Farak’s misconduct was not completed until April 2016, more than three years after her arrest.

There is still no complete list of cases tainted by this scandal.

In March 2017, the Innocence Project and the ACLU of Massachusetts, along with the New England Innocence Project and legal ethics experts, submitted a brief explaining that the attorney general’s office came nowhere close to fulfilling its responsibility to find and disclose the truth about Farak’s possible harm to our criminal justice system. Instead, the office broke at least four ethics rules, including rules requiring candor with courts and the prompt disclosure of exculpatory evidence.

Attorneys: William Newman, Matthew Segal, Carlton Williams, Shauna Harris (ACLU of Massachusetts); Nina Morrison (The Innocence Project); Denise McWilliams (The New England Innocence Project); Douglas Koff and Rebecca Morrow (Schulte Roth & Zabel)

Amici: The Innocence Project, The New England Innocence Project, ACLU of Massachusetts and Professors Daniel Medwed and Ellen Yaroshefsky