Top court considers tossing convictions related to drug lab scandal

Tens of thousands of convictions should be set aside, says the ACLU

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is considering whether to toss out tens of thousands of drug crime cases due to serious employee misconduct at one of the state's drug labs, according to the Wall Street Journal. One of the chemists working at the labs tainted thousands of cases by failing to perform her duties properly and her misconduct may have denied countless defendants the right to a fair trial. Because of similar lab misconduct in other states, the Massachusetts case could prove influential for other courts grappling with the same problem.

Lack of oversight at lab

The chemist at the center of the scandal admitted that she sometimes failed to perform chemical tests on the substances and instead identified some drugs based on sight alone. Her job in identifying substances was crucial in many drug cases and authorities say 40,323 such drug cases may have been compromised because of her involvement.

According to the Boston Globe, a report into the misconduct last year found that the problems at the lab were systemic. While the report noted that misconduct could be found linked to only the one chemist, it noted a severe lack of oversight at the lab. The report found that in some cases management at the lab overlooked the chemist's misconduct. The chemist reportedly behaved the way she did out of a desire to increase her productivity.

Thousands of convictions questioned

Because the chemist's work was used to identify whether substances in a criminal case were illegal, her misconduct calls into question the convictions of tens of thousands of people. The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to set aside the more than 40,000 convictions linked to the scandal and also provide a narrow window for potential reprosecutions of some of those cases.

The state has argued that the problem should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. As the ACLU points out, however, that process could end up taking years, during which thousands of people will suffer the effects of a criminal record they may not deserve. The ACLU argues that the case-by-case process is overly burdensome and violates the defendants' due process rights. Because of similar scandals at crime labs throughout the country, the case is being closely watched by other states and may prove highly influential.

Drug crimes

The above case shows how serious miscarriages of justice can affect countless numbers of people. For anybody who is facing a drug charge, it is important to ensure their constitutional rights are not violated by authorities or other parties. An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist anybody who is dealing with such serious charges not only fight against the charges themselves, but also fight against the damage these charges can cause to a person's reputation and livelihood.