DA Conley to Focus Resources Only On Most Serious Cases, Defendants
BOSTON, April 18, 2017—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today notified the Supreme Judicial Court that he will focus his office’s resources on approximately 1.5% of the total number of drug convictions in which former Department of Public Health chemist Annie Dookhan signed a certificate of analysis.
“The 117 defendants identified in these cases account for more than 1,700 convictions for violent crimes or weapons violations, and have amassed more than 2,800 convictions in total,” Conley said of his response to the high court’s January decision in Bridgeman v. District Attorney II. “The average defendant has more than 60 entries on his record. When given the opportunity for rehabilitation in a community setting, these defendants have violated probation an average of seven times each. They are neither low-level nor non-violent, and they stand at the intersection of drugs and violence.”
Conley further identified 15,570 viable drug convictions across about 7,500 Suffolk County dockets for the Trial Court to dismiss pursuant to the Bridgeman II decision. Many of the defendants in those cases have significant criminal histories, including crimes of violence, separate from the Dookhan-related drug convictions. Prosecutors noted that each of these convictions was based on reliable, admissible evidence that went far beyond Dookhan’s signature on a certificate of analysis. In many of them, the drug charges were collateral to more serious convictions involving guns and violence that will remain in place. In all of them, there were corroborating facts and evidence such as packaging materials, cutting agents, scales, ledgers, phone records, video footage, field testing results, the observations of police officers, and the statements of independent witnesses.
“If there had been evidence that any of these defendants was actually innocent, we would not have hesitated to dismiss the case outright and exonerate the defendant immediately,” said Conley, whose office moved to release defendants held on bail or serving sentences solely on Dookhan cases upon learning of her misconduct.
Conley said he would not further litigate these cases for two reasons. First, his directive represents a good faith effort to meet the high court’s goal of winnowing the number of Dookhan defendants down to a manageable number should any of them opt to challenge their convictions at some unspecified future date: the hundreds of public defenders and thousands of bar advocates who represent indigent defendants across the state should have little difficulty taking on the small number of remaining convictions. Second, while there was a recognized criminal justice benefit to pursuing these cases and seeking conditions of probation such as mandated drug treatment when they were first resolved, those orders could not be re-imposed if a motion were filed and allowed and the defendant was convicted and re-sentenced to probation.
Importantly, none of the defendants whose cases were dismissed today is serving a committed sentence solely on a Dookhan-related drug conviction. Few, if any, who were charged only with low-level, non-violent drug offenses served even a single day behind bars.
“Prison cells should be reserved for serious, violent, high-risk and chronic offenders,” Conley said. “That’s the philosophy and the strategy we have followed for many, many years. It’s the reason Massachusetts has the second-lowest incarceration rate in America and the reason Boston is one of the safest big cities. We draw a common-sense distinction in my office between people who commit petty crimes to further an addiction and those who prey upon that addiction out of greed. For the former group, we start with dismissals and pre-trial probation. We make diversion available through our Drug Courts. We move up to continuances without a finding and probation, and we only seek more serious sanctions after many, many bites at the apple. For the latter group, we consider the real-life harm that drug trafficking inflicts on individuals and communities. Opiate overdoses alone claim more than three times as many lives in Massachusetts as gun violence and car crashes combined. Let’s not kid ourselves: drug trafficking isn’t low-level or non-violent. It’s a dangerous business that goes hand-in-hand with guns and violence. And to say it’s a victimless crime is to turn one’s back on the tragic reality for thousands of individuals and families wrestling with addiction and mourning lost loved ones.”
Pursuant to previous decisions in district, municipal, superior, and appellate courts, Suffolk prosecutors expect to take no further action on an additional 600 cases in which defendants had filed Dookhan-related motions prior to the Bridgeman II decision, or an additional 260 defendants who pleaded guilty before the certificates of analysis in their drug cases were completed, meaning they admitted outright that the substances they possessed or distributed were, in fact, illicit narcotics.
Click here to read the letter of response to the SJC’s decision in Bridgeman II.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Who did Annie Dookhan work for?
Dookhan was not employed by or associated with any law enforcement agency. She worked at a Department of Public Health drug-testing facility known as the William A. Hinton State Laboratory. Her misconduct was only uncovered when the Hinton Lab’s drug-testing duties were transferred to Massachusetts State Police.
What was the nature of her misconduct?
In addition to falsely testifying as to her educational background and violating lab protocols, Dookhan admitted to “dry labbing” substances submitted for analysis, a practice of visually inspecting samples, grouping them by appearance, testing a small number of them, and recording the results for all of the samples, including those she did not actually test. In about 18 cases statewide out of tens of thousands of analyses during her nine years as a chemist, she wrongly certified samples that were not illicit substances as contraband. In all of the Suffolk County cases, Conley’s office took immediate action either to dismiss pending prosecutions or to vacate past convictions.
Are non-drug cases affected by her wrongdoing?
Because Dookhan worked at a Department of Public Health drug-testing facility rather than an ASCLD-LAB accredited crime laboratory like the ones operated by Boston and State police, she worked only on drug cases. The testing and analysis of firearms, fingerprints, DNA, and other forms of evidence are unaffected by Dookhan’s misconduct.
How did prosecutors respond to Dookhan’s actions?
Within days of learning that Dookhan’s certificates of analysis had been called into question, Suffolk prosecutors took action to identify cases in which she had served as a chemist. At Conley’s direction, they moved to release defendants held on bail and stay the sentences of incarcerated defendants until the reliability of the drug evidence could be ascertained. Once the pressing issue of individuals’ liberty was resolved, they undertook internal efforts and worked collaboratively with the Trial Court, defense bar, and other entities, first to compile a list of all drug cases that resulted in an adverse consequence in which she had certified the substance at issue, and then to assess the actual state of the evidence in those cases.
How did the courts characterize those efforts?
In a letter dated March 4, 2015, Associate Justice Margot Botsford of the Supreme Judicial Court singled out the Suffolk and Essex district attorneys’ offices for praise, saying they “did a wonderful job, and produced extremely useful information” in identifying the affected defendants. In the May 8, 2015, decision in Bridgeman v. District Attorney I, the full court wrote that prosecutors had “commendably provided the single justice and CPCS with the docket numbers (and other relevant identifying information).” In a December 31, 2015, order, Associate Justice Botsford observed that “The Suffolk and Essex County District Attorneys … have participated constructively in all the proceedings before me as single justice and have voluntarily provided enormous assistance to the court and to the parties in the complex and time-consuming task of identifying Dookhan defendants in their respective counties.”
Why are prosecutors now recommending dismissal for this large number of cases?
Individual defendants and society at large are best served when criminal charges are assessed on their own merits. This is a fundamental principle of American jurisprudence, and the SJC adhered to it in an unbroken series of decisions rejecting mass dismissal. Rather than dragging their feet, Suffolk prosecutors kept pace with those decisions and worked rapidly with the Trial Court and defense bar to litigate and resolve hundreds of Dookhan-related motions within the high court’s framework. That work was done so efficiently that the early backlog of motions was entirely eliminated and new motions were being decided rapidly and fairly. The Bridgeman II decision was based on the prediction that many defendants who had not yet filed such motions would overwhelm the Massachusetts defense bar were they to do so at some future point: prosecutors’ actions today represent another good faith effort to follow the high court’s guidance and reduce the number of potential future motions.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.