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Massachusetts Supreme Court Limits Defendant’s Recourse from Hinton Lab Chemist’s Misconduct

The scandal surrounding a chemist’s misconduct who worked at the Massachusetts State Crime Lab has had far-reaching consequences for thousands of Massachusetts defendants since it broke. After state chemist Annie Dookan pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in 2013, defendants whose alleged drugs were tested by Ms. Dookan were entitled to have their convictions vacated. Since 2013, over 10,000 drug convictions have been vacated, and most defendants were not retried for their crimes. Defendants who were convicted of multiple crimes as part of one case however are required to fight harder to have all their convictions overturned. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard a case in which a defendant sought to withdraw guilty pleas from several non-drug-related crimes that were connected to a drug charge that was vacated based on Ms. Dookan’s misconduct.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant in the recently decided appeal was charged with several crimes after he was suspected of committing an armed robbery. In addition to robbery and gun charges, he was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to several charges, including both violent and drug offenses, and was sentenced to 3-5 years in state prison. Based on a broad ruling by the Suffolk County Court in 2017, the drug portions of his conviction were vacated, however, this did not benefit the defendant in any tangible way because the sentences for each of his convictions ran concurrently.

The defendant sought to withdraw his guilty pleas to the violent crimes, arguing that the plea agreement he made was based upon the strong drug evidence against him, and had he known that the drug evidence was tainted, he would have taken the other charges to trial. The trial judge denied the defendant’s request, finding that the gun charges against him were supported by strong evidence and that he would have accepted the plea offer even if the drug charges were thrown out.

The defendant appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, where the court clarified the requirements for a defendant to withdraw pleas for non-drug-related charges. The court emphasized that a defendant must prove that had they known of Annie Dookan’s misconduct, they would not have pleaded guilty to the non-drug charges. Based on the favorability of the plea agreement considering the charges brought, as well as the strength of the evidence against him, the high court found that the defendant did not establish a reasonable probability that he would have rejected the plea agreement had he known of the chemist’s misconduct. As a result of this finding, the defendant’s request to withdraw his pleas was denied, and he will be required to serve his prison sentence.

Were You Affected by Chemist Misconduct?

If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime or crimes with evidence tested by Annie Dookan, you should be entitled to have those drug convictions overturned. If you were also convicted on non-drug charges as part of the same case, it may be possible to vacate those convictions as well. If you have questions about such a case, the Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy might be able to help. Our lawyers understand the specific requirements established by the courts to address cases stemming from the Hinton lab scandal, and we might be able to help. Our lawyers represent clients facing all types of charges, including Boston drug crimes and violent offenses. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.

 

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