April 19 (UPI) -- Massachusetts prosecutors announced they would drop more than 20,000 drug cases that relied on evidence compromised by a lab chemist who admitted fabricating results.
The mass dismissal of wrongful convictions is unprecedented in scope and comes after years of litigation by defendants whose trials depended on evidence handled by state employee Annie Dookhan. She admitted to evidence tampering and forging evidence in a 2013 trial and recently was paroled after serving three years in prison.
District attorneys in several Massachusetts counties said they would re-prosecute a fraction of the low-level drug cases currently in their workload, and drop the majority of the convictions. The exact tally of cases to be dropped may not be known until later Wednesday.
The seven district attorney offices with cases affected by Dookhan's crimes brought their lists to the state Supreme Judicial Court clerk's office in Boston on Tuesday. The court is expected to issue an order of dismissal this week.
The Massachusetts counties involved are Bristol, Essex, Cape and Islands, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk. Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement that 117 of 15,570 cases will be pursued and the rest dropped; Bristol Count District Attorney Thomas Quinn III said that 112 of more than 1,500 cases involving Dookhan's analysis would go forward; Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said his office would prosecute one case and drop 1,067.
"We are dealing with drug defendants, the overwhelming majority of whom pleaded guilty, went through an exhaustive plea colloquy with a judge and testified under oath that they were 'pleading guilty because they were guilty and for no other reason,'" said O'Keefe said in a statement, adding the convictions would be dropped "because we believe that the integrity of our system of justice is more important than their convictions."
Investigators said Dookhan's compulsion to overachieve led her to cut corners in her job and fabricate results. She emerged as her lab's most prolific analyst, although concerns from her fellow employees were ignored, NBC News reported. She was charged with obstruction of justice, evidence tampering and perjury, and pleaded guilty in a plea bargain.
Dookhan forged supervisors' initials on lab reports, lied about a graduate degree in chemistry, and told police she only visually tested drug samples instead of providing a more rigorous analysis
"The dismissal of thousands of tainted drug lab cases rightly puts justice over results," said Martin Healy, the Massachusetts Bar Association's chief legal counsel. "It is a necessary and long-overdue outcome, given our criminal justice system's responsibility to ensure a level playing field for all, regardless of the offense."