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The ACLU of Massachusetts filed a petition with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to dismiss more than 40,300 criminal cases tainted by Annie Dookhan, the state chemist whose falsification of test results in drug cases led to the worst scandal to hit the criminal justice system in years.
Growing increasingly frustrated with the state's slow response to the massive due process ordeal, the ACLU filed a petition with the state's highest court requesting specific actions.
Above all, the ACLU is pushing for complete dismissal of all 40,323 convictions based on evidence tested by Dookhan. The petition advanced a due process argument, claiming the defendants in the affected cases are constitutionally entitled to a swift resolution on the post-conviction relief matter.
No Tougher Penalties
The petition seeks a ruling that would prohibit defendants who want their cases reviewed from being sentenced to more time in prison than previously imposed.
According to the ACLU, many defendants are hesitant to challenge their convictions for fear of receiving even tougher penalties the second time around.
Burden Shift With Specific Time Period
Currently, it's left up to defense attorneys to identify the people with tainted convictions. To expedite the resolution, the ACLU's petition seeks a court order that will shift the burden to prosecutors to prove why they want to re-litigate these cases.
In addition, the petition requests the court to set forth a specific timeframe of 90 days to determine if they will re-prosecute individual cases that were based on Dookhan's tests. If so, the prosecutors would have six months to resolve an individual case with a trial or a guilty plea. If not, that conviction would be overturned.
Continuing to let the cases linger in limbo, after two years of waiting, is to violate the due process rights of the "Dookhan defendants" to post-conviction proceedings and relief without unreasonable delay, according to the ACLU's petition.
With larger questions looming about the overall conditions at the lab, this scandal is creating a sentencing nightmare for the court, particularly in cases involving multiple crimes apart from drug possession where wholesale dismissal may not be appropriate.
In the meantime, the Supreme Judicial Court is considering several cases from Suffolk County that will clarify what standards prosecutors and the courts should follow in determining whether a defendant is entitled to a new trial.
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