Last week, the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services filed a petition in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (the state’s highest court). In it, the petitioners have requested that the Court dismiss all of the 18,000+ cases former state chemist Sonja Farak likely tainted through her decade-long streak of criminal misconduct. They filed the petition because, “[a]lthough it has been more than four years since Farak’s arrest, the Commonwealth has shirked its obligations to identify the wrongfully convicted defendants, to notify those defendants of the egregious government misconduct that tainted their cases, and to provide them with meaningful opportunities for post-conviction relief.” In short, the State’s foot-dragging has compounded both Farak’s misconduct and the subsequent prosecutorial misconduct that followed.
A few months ago, we took an in-depth look at the prosecutorial misconduct that plagued the investigation of Farak’s misconduct here. Superior court judge Richard Carey dismissed the convictions of seven defendants whose cases were influenced by Farak. Judge Carey concluded that the behavior of two prosecutors who withheld evidence revealing the extent of Farak’s criminal activity was “in many ways more damning” than Farak’s conduct itself. The two Assistant Attorney Generals involved were Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster. We concluded that “the AG’s office avoided doing a meaningful investigation, and materially misrepresented what it had actually learned. [For that reason] [i]t took years for the scope of the scandal to become clear.”
At the end of that earlier post, we wrote of Judge Carey’s actions:
“To be clear, this is only the beginning of the end of the Farak scandal. Judge Carey merely ruled on a handful of cases. How many more cases require attention and correction? (The number could be well into the thousands.) That question will continue to plague Massachusetts’s criminal justice system for the foreseeable future.”
Despite the significance of Judge Carey’s findings and his ultimate decision, the Commonwealth has done nothing since June to move forward with remedying the injustices. The lawsuit filed last week demands a global remedy: dismissal of all cases with prejudice. While that may seem like a heavy request, the Supreme Judicial Court knows all too well that prosecutors in Massachusetts have failed to purge the system of the stains left by lab scandals. After all, as Mark Joseph Stern points out in his Slate piece, the Court recently dealt with massive fallout from the separate but also highly-damaging Annie Dookhan scandal.
In that case, the Court did not grant the defense’s requested global remedy outright; instead, it gave prosecutors firm deadlines for coming forward with decisions about each individual case. Ultimately, with that judicial pressure in place, the prosecutors agreed to dismiss more than 20,000 cases. But, the Farak scandal has some distinguishing characteristics. Namely, members of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office have already committed misconduct in handling the investigation of the Farak matter. With that additional taint—the petition argues—the systemic issues here necessitate an emphatic and efficient response. We agree. And we will keep you posted.