Massachusetts’ highest court has dismissed more than 11,000 drug convictions due to serious misconduct by a drug lab chemist

The highest court in Massachusetts has effectively ordered the dismissal of more than 11,000 drug convictions, as they may be tainted by the misconduct of former Massachusetts forensics chemist Sonja Farak.

Farak worked in a Massachusetts drug analysis lab from 2003 until her arrest in January 2013. She served an 18-month prison sentence after being convicted of tampering with evidence, stealing illegal drugs from the facility where she worked and cocaine possession.

In a 5 April ruling, the Massachusetts supreme court ordered the dismissal of all drug convictions affected by Farak’s criminal actions. The decision will mean that 11,162 convictions in 7690 cases will be overturned, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts estimates.

The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) in September 2017, which urged the court to vacate every single case where Farak served as the state’s chemist. ‘While we are pleased for those who have finally, after five years of litigation, obtained the relief they are entitled to, we continue to fight for those still seeking justice,’ stated Rebecca Jacobstein, a CPCS staff attorney. She called for the remaining criminal cases where Farak signed the drug analysis certificate to be overturned, as well as all cases assessed while Farak worked there. Jacobstein said Farak’s misconduct ‘was not limited to cases where she signed the drug certificate of analysis’, but affected all cases at the lab.

For six months, Farak actually overlapped at the Hinton drug lab with another disgraced Massachusetts state forensic chemist, Annie Dookhan, who was sentenced to three to five years in prison in November 2013 after admitting to mixing evidence samples and falsifying results. Last year, the Massachusetts supreme court directed that nearly 22,000 criminal drug cases affected by Dookhan’s misconduct be overturned. That was the largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in US history.