Tainted by former MA chemist Annie Dookhan, thousands of drug cases are set to be dismissed. She served three years in prison for evidence tampering and was released on parole in April 2016.
Prosecutors said they chose to re-prosecute defendants with lengthy criminal histories.
Numerous drug case defendants have already completed their sentences, though some probably remain in prison because of other charges not contaminated by the lab scandal.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of MA, the cases were particularly damaging to "low-income and black and brown" communities.
"It's great for the people who were convicted by this evidence because they can finally get out from underneath the crippling collateral consequences of a drug conviction", said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of MA, the Boston Herald reported. "Annie Dookhan, the "rogue" chemist at the center of this debacle, was free to falsify drug lab results for eight full years because the system is created to facilitate convictions, while simultaneously being utterly ill-equipped to either provide equal justice to defendants or restore justice to the wrongfully convicted".
"These cases were identified in close collaboration with our local police departments and are Superior Court cases involving serious drug offenses, where sufficient independent evidence remains available for retesting", Marian Ryan, the district attorney, said in a statement. Investigators and former colleagues have said the Trinidadian immigrant seemed driven by a compulsion to overachieve, even if it meant making things up or cutting corners. She became the lab's most prolific analyst, which impressed her bosses but raised concern among colleagues.
The prosecutors fought for a way to preserve the convictions, and leave it to the defendants to challenge them. So the Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, came up with a solution, after declaring Dookhan's deeds "government misconduct that has cast a shadow over the entire criminal justice system". Next, the prosecutors must send a court-approved letter to those defendants whose cases are not dismissed, notifying them of the opportunity to reopen their cases and also providing a "hotline" phone number to public defenders for guidance.
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The prosecutors delivered their answers individually Tuesday at the Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston.
Essex County DA Jonathan Blodgett said he would retry 55 cases, but agreed to dismiss 5,160, according to NBC News.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose jurisdiction includes Boston, moved on Tuesday to dismiss all but 117 of the approximately 7,500 suspect cases there.
But defense lawyers and civil rights advocates said the dubious convictions made it hard for defendants to find jobs and housing or to obtain student loans. More than 20,000 convictions of those remained against so-called "Dookhan Defendants". In other cases, non-citizens were threatened with deportation.
Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and falsifying thousands of tests in criminal drug cases, calling into question evidence used to prosecute the defendants. "It is a necessary and long-overdue outcome, given our criminal justice system's responsibility to ensure a level playing field for all, regardless of the offense".
Dookhan worked at the state lab for a decade before her exposure in 2012.
"I think the situation might have been different at an accredited lab because there would have been more eyes looking", said Jack Mario, a retired seized-drug laboratory chemist who acted as a consultant in the Dookhan investigation.