See Press Release Below:
District Attorney Rachael Rollins today filed a motion unveiling a plan to remedy the harm caused by the catastrophic “failure of management” at the now-closed William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute. In the filing, DA Rollins announced her Hinton Lab Initiative, pledging to vacate Suffolk County drug convictions for any individual whose drug certification was done at the Hinton Lab between May 2003 and August 2012, a period of time in which either now disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan, or another convicted chemist Sonja Farak, worked at the facility, and up until it was closed by Governor Deval Patrick. The Initiative potentially impacts tens of thousands of defendants.
In recognition of the enormous harm inflicted on the criminal legal system by “a lapse of systemic magnitude,” District Attorney Rollins and her team will now work to find a global resolution that can start to rebuild trust in the system. The Hinton Lab Initiative, a sweeping reform, is needed because the Commonwealth failed “to adequately and appropriately manage a forensic agency that provided prima facie evidence used to convict” defendants, and that utter failure “constitutes misconduct and demands the result here,’’ the filing states.
The extraordinary effort is outlined in an assent to a defense motion for a new trial for Justino Escobar, whose 2009 plea was “unfortunately one of too many where the integrity of the conviction is now suspect due to the notorious misconduct’’ that occurred at the Hinton Lab. While Della Saunders was the Hinton Lab chemist who analyzed the substances in the Escobar case, the filing makes clear the assent for a new trial for Escobar is unrelated to the reliability of her work and alleges no misconduct on Saunders part.
In all, chemists working at Hinton during the nine year period analyzed and certified some 82,800 samples from Suffolk County. More than 7,800 of those cases were already reviewed and vacated with prejudice as part of the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2017 ruling in Bridgeman and others v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District and others. But there are some 74,800 Suffolk County certifications that were not reviewed and they will be the subject of the proposed global resolution. Since one certification can be used for multiple defendants or one defendant can have multiple certifications, the precise number of defendants is still to be determined.
“The time has come to fully address the impact of systemic misconduct in the Hinton Lab. In doing so, the Commonwealth embraces the high standard that our Constitution requires…It may never be early enough to address such egregious and systemic misconduct, but it is never too late to rectify the injustice suffered by so many individuals,’’ the filing states. “The Commonwealth, therefore, intends to collaborate with the defense bar to identify a global resolution for any controlled substance conviction resulting from any analysis conducted at the Hinton Lab between May 1, 2003 and August 30, 2012.”
“With this filing and the Hinton Lab Initiative, we are starting the hard work of instilling integrity back into an important part of the criminal legal system,’’ DA Rollins said. “We will convene a summit next month to begin identifying individual defendants, reviewing the cases, and determining next steps. After years of litigation, this is an important step toward restoring trust and faith in the criminal legal system. By working together with our courtroom partners, today we no longer rely on potentially falsified or fabricated evidence, and finally declare what we should have over a decade ago, that the abject and systemic mismanagement of the Hinton Lab has rendered anything produced there inherently suspect.”
Once all of the sentences are vacated, the District Attorney’s Office will work collaboratively with the defense bar to further remedy the records of individual defendants. Current laws would permit the expungement of convictions should the District Attorney’s global resolution be successful. That work will also include reviewing current cases in which a Hinton Lab conviction serves as the predicate offence for an enhanced sentence on a subsequent state or federal indictment. Those prosecutions – and sentences – will be impacted by the District Attorney’s decision regarding the original Hinton Lab convictions. “This is what justice requires,’’ said DA Rollins.
A similar clean sweep of drug convictions was implemented at the Amherst Lab where Farak worked starting in 2004. The combined scandals of Dookhan and Farak have resulted in tens of thousands of overturned convictions, and have cost the Commonwealth approximately $30 million to date, and thousands of hours of work by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office that could have been spent on unsolved homicides, interacting positively with youth in our communities, or proactively trying to disrupt violence.
The proposed relief in the Hinton Lab Initiative is only for controlled substances convictions and will not extend to other charges prosecuted in the same cases, such as gun possession. Hinton Lab personnel were only involved in testing and reviewing controlled substances, and in no way touched the other convictions. Individuals who believe they are entitled to relief under the Suffolk Hinton Lab Initiative should visit www.suffolkdistrictattorney.com for more information.
Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can have life-long impacts on an individual’s capacity to gain employment, attend college, secure housing, and use government benefits, as well as many other opportunities. DA Rollins’ Office is the first in the state to take such broad affirmative action on all Hinton cases.
“This shameful chapter of our history will take dedication and perseverance to undo,’’ said DA Rollins, who thanked the criminal defense bar in general and Attorney Luke Ryan, in particular for their determination, dedication, and relentless pursuit in bringing all of the corruption at the lab to light.
This is the most recent action that DA Rollins’ Office has taken to cure the ills of the Hinton Lab. Last year, David Lewis of DA Rollins’ Integrity Review Bureau asked a Single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to vacate all 117 so-called List Three convictions in Suffolk County. The List Three cases were those that District Attorneys did not move to vacate following the SJC’s Bridgeman ruling and that matter is still pending before the SJC Single Justice. And last May, General Counsel Donna Patalano asked the state SJC to vacate guilty pleas of 64 people who pleaded guilty to 91 drug charges before the state’s scandal-tainted lab in Jamaica Plain (yes, Hinton) was able to test the substances — tests which later showed the substances were not illegal drugs. Those cases are now in the trial court.
Patalano filed today’s motion on behalf of DA Rollins.
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