Court formally throws out more than 21K tainted drug cases

In this Nov. 22, 2013 file photo, former state chemist Annie Dookhan sits in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. (David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool, File)

BOSTON (AP/WPRI) — The highest court in Massachusetts has formally approved the dismissal of more than 21,000 drug convictions that were tainted by the misconduct of a former state drug lab chemist.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the final order from the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday marks the single largest dismissal of convictions in U.S. history.

The action by the court was expected after seven district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts submitted lists on Tuesday totaling 21,587 cases they would be unwilling or unable to prosecute if new trials were ordered.

The cases were called into question when chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests. Dookhan pleaded guilty to perjury and other charges in 2013 and served a three-year prison sentence.

Carl Williams, staff attorney for the Massachusetts ACLU, said some justice has been served, but it took far too long.

“Some people were deported from the United States of America because they had one of these tainted drug convictions,” he said.

The ACLU first publicly demanded these cases be dismissed back in 2012, according to Williams.

“The district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts were completely intransigent about dismissing these cases,” he added. “They refused to do that, and they filed hundreds of thousands of pages to do exactly not what happened today.”

Williams said 90 percent of the Dookhan cases were misdemeanors or low-level felonies.

The court will now be sending letters to those whose cases were affected. Williams said he believes many of those people will challenge the convictions.