Press Release

Ending the Drug War

Drug cases tainted by Sonja Farak should be dismissed

The ACLU of Massachusetts today filed a petition, together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and Fick & Marx LLP, urging the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to dismiss every single case tainted by state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak. The petition calls for the dismissal due to misconduct by Farak and also by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO), whose former prosecutors intentionally deceived the court and defense lawyers by falsely downplaying the scope of this latest lab scandal.

The petitioners in this filing 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.

“Massachusetts’ ‘war on drugs’ has produced two of the largest drug lab scandals the country has ever seen,” said Carol Rose, executive director of ACLU of Massachusetts. “The only sensible next step is for all of the victims of the Amherst lab scandal to have their convictions vacated and their tainted drug charges dismissed. Doing right by the victims of the drug lab scandal is critical to restoring the integrity of the criminal justice system and an important step toward addressing the criminalization of substance abuse.”

Almost every day for eight years, while working as a state chemist in the Amherst lab, Farak manufactured drugs, stole samples, and tested evidence while under the influence, throwing thousands of drug cases into question. Since the Amherst scandal first became public in January 2013, Farak’s lab misconduct has been compounded by the AGO’s misconduct because, according to the recent findings of Superior Court Justice, Assistant Attorneys General deliberately misled the court and defense lawyers about the evidence against Farak. This combined wrongdoing by Farak and the AGO, in turn, has been further intensified by the District Attorneys’ failure to identify the “Farak Defendants” and notify them about the violations of their rights.

“Every single case affected by Sonja Farak and the Amherst lab scandal should be dismissed – and prosecutors should be held accountable for identifying and notifying defendants with potentially tainted convictions, both in this scandal and others,” said David Hoose, President of Hampden County Lawyers for Justice.

“Amazingly, the Amherst drug lab scandal involving Sonja Farak is even worse than the Hinton Drug Lab Scandal involving Annie Dookhan, because this latest forensic crisis in Massachusetts is the result of both egregious misconduct in the drug lab itself and also prosecutorial misconduct by the Attorney General’s Office of unprecedented scope and consequence,” said Daniel Marx of Fick & Marx. 

“It’s not fair that the criminal justice system spends so much time and money punishing people who suffer from the disease of addiction, when it doesn’t hold its own officials accountable for truly terrible actions,” said Reaves.

The filing follows ACLU’s major victory in April, 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.

View a full timeline of the drug lab scandals.

Learn more about the case, Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General.

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