Ending the Drug War

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General

Art by Hallie Pope.

Almost every day for eight years, state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak manufactured drugs, stole samples, and tested evidence while under the influence, throwing thousands of drug cases into question.

But the Amherst drug lab scandal doesn’t stop there.

After Farak’s arrest in 2013, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) claimed her misconduct lasted under five months. All the while, they had crucial evidence showing that the misconduct was more severe. That means thousands of people were convicted based on bad evidence—and the AGO hid that information from them and the courts.

Since then, thousands of defendants affected by misconduct at the Amherst lab have been kept in the dark about what happened and denied any meaningful chance at a remedy for their wrongful convictions.

On September 20, 2017, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and law firm Fick & Marx LLP, filed a petition urging the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to dismiss every case in which Farak was the state’s chemist. The petition calls for the dismissals due not only to Farak’s wrongdoing but also the AGO’s misconduct. It also asks the court to establish rules to prevent this type of prosecutorial misconduct.

The plaintiffs in this case are CPCS, Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, and two individuals who were convicted of drug crimes in cases where Farak served as the state’s chemist.

The individuals, Herschelle Reaves and Nicole Westcott, are two of perhaps thousands of defendants who were denied any timely and meaningful opportunity to challenge their convictions because the AGO misrepresented the duration and extent of Farak’s misconduct.

This case follows ACLU’s major victory in April 2017, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its final order to dismiss nearly 22,000 wrongful drug convictions that had been tainted by former state chemist Annie Dookhan. That was the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in the nation’s history.

In November 2017, following an order from Supreme Judicial Court Justice Gaziano, district attorneys agreed to dismiss more than 6,000 cases. Justice Gaziano officially dismissed additional cases on April 5, 2018. The case will continue on to the full Supreme Judicial Court in mid-2018.

Note: We previously said that 11,000 cases were dismissed on April 5, 2018. That number does not appear to be accurate. We will post an update once we have final numbers.

Attorneys: Matthew SegalCarlton Williams and Adriana Lafaille (ACLU of Massachusetts); Daniel Marx (Fick & Marx LLP); Rebecca Jacobstein and Benjamin Keehn (CPCS)


May 08, 2018
Boston Globe: SJC considers tossing out 11,000 more drug cases
May 08, 2018
WBUR: Mass. High Court Considers Fining AG's Office In Drug Lab Case
May 08, 2018
ABC News: Court asked to levy fines for misconduct in lab scandal
April 24, 2018
Boston Globe: Attorney General Healey promises changes after drug lab scandal
April 05, 2018
Boston Globe: Judge dismisses more than 7,000 Amherst drug lab cases
April 05, 2018
Sentinel & Enterprise: 11,000 drug convictions officially tossed
April 05, 2018
MassLive: Thousands of convictions tainted by disgraced Amherst drug lab analyst Sonja Farak vacated
April 05, 2018
WBUR: 11,000 Convictions Ordered For Dismissal In Chemist Case
March 20, 2018
Boston Globe: Defense lawyers ask court to toss 11,000 more cases in Amherst drug lab scandal
March 20, 2018
Daily Hampshire Gazette: Dismissal sought for 11K cases tied to Amherst drug lab scandal
March 06, 2018
Mass Live: Annie Dookhan drug defendants ask state to reimburse their court fees and fines; Mass. could owe millions
February 24, 2018
Boston Globe: Dookhan defendants sue for return of probation fees
February 23, 2018
Boston Herald: Drug Lab Scandal: SJC to decide of defendants get money back
February 23, 2018
Commonwealth Magazine: The cost of the drug war
February 23, 2018
Boston Herald: Judge set to toss 8,000 drug cases tied to scandal
February 23, 2018
Courthouse News: Massachusetts primes for dismissal of thousands of drug cases
February 22, 2018
MassLive: Around 8,000 Massachusetts drug cases touched by Sonja Farak could be dismissed next week
January 31, 2018
Boston Herald: SJC to rule on ex-prosecutors' alleged misconduct in Farak cases
January 30, 2018
Boston Globe: SJC to decide whether to dismiss all cases connected to former drug lab chemists
January 30, 2018
MassLive: Massachusetts high court to hear case involving fallout from disgraced state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak's conduct
January 30, 2018
Boston Herald: Full List of Annie Dookhan defendants sought
January 08, 2018
ACLU Blog: 30,000 Tainted Convictions, One Path Forward
January 03, 2018
Rolling Stone: And Justice For None: Inside Biggest Law Enforcement Scandal in Massachusetts History
December 29, 2017
CBS News: 8,000 drug convictions could be dismissed in Massachusetts
December 28, 2017
Washington Post: Massachusetts prosecutors to throw out 8,000 convictions in second drug lab scandal
December 20, 2017
MassLive: More than 8,000 drug cases tainted by chemist Sonja Farak
December 01, 2017
MassLive: Tainted drug cases cause irreparable damage (Editorial)
December 01, 2017
WBUR: 6,000 Cases May Be Dismissed After Former State Chemist Misconduct
December 01, 2017
Boston Herald: DAs to dump 7,500 more drug convictions
November 30, 2017
Reuters: Massachusetts prosecutors to toss 6,000 cases tied to drug chemist
November 30, 2017
New York Times: 6,000 Drug Cases Tainted by Lab Scandal to Be Dismissed
October 04, 2017
Washington Post: Prosecutors slammed for ‘lack of moral compass,’ withholding evidence in widening Mass. drug lab scandal
September 22, 2017
Slate: Prosecutors Lied About a Chemist Who Tainted 18,000 Convictions. Time to Overturn Them All.
September 22, 2017
Alternet: Thousands of Cases Tainted in New Massachusetts Drug Lab Scandal
September 21, 2017
Courthouse News: ACLU Calls Thousands of Massachusetts Drug Cases Tainted
September 20, 2017
MassLive: ACLU asks for dismissal of all drug cases affected by Sonja Farak misconduct
September 20, 2017
WBUR: Mass. High Court Is Asked To Dismiss Cases Tied To Ex-State Drug Lab Chemist
September 20, 2017
Boston Globe: Court petition asks for dismissal of all cases touched by former drug lab chemist Farak
September 20, 2017
Boston Herald: Lawyers ask SJC to toss mountain of cases tied to disgraced chemist
September 20, 2017
Law360: ACLU Urges Mass. Justices To Toss Tainted Drug Convictions
September 20, 2017
NECN: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Asked to Dismiss Cases Tied to Former Drug Lab Chemist
March 16, 2017
Slate: Prosecutors Made Massachusetts’ Drug Lab Scandal Much, Much Worse
December 15, 2016
WBUR: Hearings Dive Into Ex-State Chemist's Drug Abuse, And What The AG's Office Knew
October 04, 2016
NECIR: Luke Ryan on finding undisclosed Farak evidence
June 07, 2016
WGBH: Judge Pushes Prosecutors For More Emails In Farak Drug-Testing Case
May 05, 2016
Washington Post: Mass. crime chemist admits daily drug use in lab, sparking a second scandal
May 04, 2016
WBUR: Reports: Ex-Mass. Chemist At Amherst Drug Lab High At Work For 8 Years
April 26, 2016
MassLive: Defense lawyers want more details on drug use of Sonja Farak, ex-Massachusetts chemist who tampered with samples
October 09, 2015
Slate: Crime Lab Scandals Just Keep Getting Worse