BOSTON, Jan. 20, 2016—An Appeals Court panel today ruled that a man who admitted to carrying crack cocaine cannot withdraw his plea simply because a disgraced former chemist tested the drugs months after the plea was entered, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.
In an unpublished decision issued today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that a West Roxbury Municipal Court judge erred in allowing SAQUAN GORMAN (D.O.B. 5/4/91) to withdraw his 2008 plea to a charge of possession of a Class B substance based solely on the grounds that, well after Gorman pleaded guilty, the drugs were tested by Annie Dookhan, the former Department of Public Health chemist whose mishandling of drug evidence came to light in 2012.
Under a 2014 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, “Dookhan Defendants” – or defendants in whose cases drug evidence was handled by Dookhan – are entitled to a presumption that egregious government conduct occurred in their cases based on the chemist’s wide-reaching malfeasance. The ruling states that, in order to succeed on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, defendants must prove that Dookhan’s actions preceded a guilty plea and that their decision to plead guilty would have been affected had they known of Dookhan’s conduct.
In his motion to withdraw his plea, Gorman argued that the same presumption should be applied to his case simply because the drugs in his case were present in the same lab where the misconduct had occurred prior to his guilty plea. The Appeals Court disagreed.
In finding that no misconduct occurred in Gorman’s case before he pleaded guilty, the Appeals Court reversed the decision vacating his plea.
Had the case proceeded to trial, Suffolk prosecutors would have presented evidence and testimony to prove that Gorman was stopped by Boston Police on June 18, 2008, after he was observed weaving in and out of traffic on a damaged motor scooter. He was arrested for operating without a license, and, during a lawful search incident to his arrest, officers recovered two baggies containing what appeared to be crack cocaine.
Gorman was initially charged with possession with intent to distribute a Class B substance and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle; prosecutors later reduced the drug charge to possession of a Class B substance, to which the defendant admitted to facts sufficient for a guilty finding. The case was continued without a finding for a period of 18 months and ultimately dismissed.
The drugs, which had been sent to the former Hinton Drug Lab after Gorman’s arrest, were tested on Jan. 7, 2009 – a full four months after Gorman entered into a favorable plea agreement that included no jail time and no conviction on his record.
The case was argued on appeal by Assistant District Attorney Vincent DeMore. Gorman was represented by Brad Bennion.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.