More than 21,000 lower-level drug-related criminal cases throughout Massachusetts have been dismissed following the fallout from a scandal at the state’s crime lab. A rogue lab technician is thought to have falsified thousands of results in cases handled over a number of years prior to her resignation in 2012, leading to one of the biggest single instances of case dismissals ever.
Prosecutors across seven counties have announced plans to retry only a few hundred of the cases, typically involving those with lengthy criminal records.
Years in the making
The April announcement of dismissals and planned retrials came after over five years of research, investigation and dogged insistence on the part of both state criminal defense attorneys and lawyers at the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU estimates that, of the original 21,907 drug crime cases potentially impacted by forged lab results, falsified documents and tampered evidence, only 302 will be retried.
For her part in the scandal, the lab tech at the center of it all served three years in prison, being released in 2016. Officials are still unsure as to her motive, but suspect that she had a compulsion towards overachieving at any cost. Her apparent zeal, and the speed with which she tested evidence and filed reports was praised by superiors, but coworkers expressed concerns which were, for a time, largely ignored. It took several years of her illicit actions before her schemes were discovered.
By the time the scandal broke in 2012, she’d worked on tens of thousands of cases. This meant that any conviction she could have been partially or wholly responsible for could potentially be questioned. State prosecutors and investigators have spent the last several years going through cases, determining if untainted evidence existed that could warrant retrial.
Of course, for the hundreds of people now facing retrial, their ordeal isn’t over just yet. They will still need to defend themselves in court with the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney to argue their case before the judge and jury.