Foley Hoag and ACLU Secure Victory for More Than 30,000 Individuals in Mass. Crime Lab Scandal

May 19, 2015

Mass. Supreme Judicial Court Addresses Due Process Violations for Those Convicted Using Possibly Tainted Evidence

Foley Hoag LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won a significant victory for victims of the Annie Dookhan crime lab scandal when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) lifted the threat of longer prison sentences from people who successfully challenge the validity of their tainted convictions.

The SJC decision, announced May 18, strictly limits the potential punishments for defendants who pled guilty to charges as a result of Dookhan’s fabrication of incriminating evidence. If such a defendant successfully withdraws his or her guilty plea, the SJC now forbids prosecutors from reviving more serious charges that were often dismissed during the plea bargain process.

Additionally, the SJC ruled that if such defendants are ultimately tried and convicted for the alleged crimes, they cannot receive a more severe sentence than what they already received as a result of their plea. According to the SJC: “In essence, a defendant’s sentence is capped at what it was under the plea agreement.” This decision removes a major obstacle for many defendants who wish to vindicate their constitutional rights, especially those who already served their original sentence and fear that challenging their tainted conviction could send them back to jail.

The court ruled on a petition filed in January 2014 by Foley Hoag, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. The petition contended that due process required that people whose rights were violated by the Dookhan scandal have a fair chance to overturn wrongful convictions and withdraw unjust plea bargains. In most cases, the pleas put felony criminal convictions on their records.

Foley Hoag partner Daniel Marx, along with the ACLU, leads the team representing three petitioners challenging their convictions: Kevin Bridgeman, Yasir Creach, and Miguel Cuevas.

“Thousands of people were denied due process by the egregious misconduct at the Hinton Lab,” Marx said. “At the time of the original convictions, the district attorneys believed that these plea agreements provided fair and adequate punishments for the defendants. The only thing that has changed is that the Commonwealth’s case was revealed to be built on a foundation of false evidence. As the SJC explained, the Commonwealth is not entitled to a ‘second bite at the proverbial apple’ due to its own ‘systemic lapse.’”

Prior to today’s ruling, the threat that prosecutors would seek longer prison terms, including mandatory minimum sentences, often discouraged people from withdrawing guilty pleas that were influenced by Dookhan’s misconduct. Dookhan mishandled evidence while she was employed as a chemist at the William Hinton Crime Laboratory in Jamaica Plain between 2003 and 2012. Dookhan pleaded guilty in Nov. 2013 to 27 counts of misleading investigators, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence. Her misconduct affected more than 30,000 individuals.

About the American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the nation’s guardian of liberty. A private, voluntary, nonpartisan organization, it works daily in the courts, in legislatures, and in communities to defend and preserve our country’s basic civic values--the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The ACLU of Massachusetts, with over 20,000 supporters across the Commonwealth, is a state affiliate of the national ACLU. It defends the principles enshrined in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights as well as the U.S. Constitution.