The Massachusetts criminal justice system is still dealing with the fallout from a scandal involving one of the chemists who was working for the state. The chemist, Sonja Farak, “admitted that she was high nearly every day while analyzing drug samples submitted by police from 2005 to 2013.” Farak's actions were discovered in early 2013 after her co-workers found drug samples that were missing. At first, authorities thought just a few cases were affected by Farak, but later learned that there were many, many more cases that could be impacted. Defense attorneys are now working on finding out which cases Farak handled.
According to the Washington Post, though Farak plead guilty to charges in 2014, prosecutors have yet to identify the many of the cases that she worked on. Because of this delay, “last month, the state public defender agency and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Massachusetts attorney general and all 11 district attorneys, seeking a list –and dismissal –of all Farak-related cases, based not only on her misadventures but also the ‘egregious prosecutorial misconduct' by the state attorney general's office.”
The prosecutorial misconduct referenced in the case involves Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster, two former assistant attorney generals. The women are accused of not informing defendants about problems with Farak's testing. The Washington Post reported that a judge recently concluded that the former prosecutors “committed ‘intentional, repeated, prolonged and deceptive withholding of evidence from the defendants' and that ‘their misconduct evinces a depth of deceptiveness that constitutes fraud upon the court.'” Kaczmarek and Foster also had complaints filed against them with the state bar.
Though a judge had ruled in that “no cases tested by Farak before July 2012 could be revisited” and had denied motions to inspect the evidence that was found in Farak's car, defense attorney Luke Ryan filed a motion again asking to look at the evidence in the vehicle. Finally, after Kaczmarek resigned in order to go work as a Suffolk County clerk-magistrate, Ryan's motion was granted. Ryan discovered evidence that Farak's drug use went all the way back to 2011 and also found “lab records showing that the machines used to test drugs were issuing faulty reports.”
This isn't the first time Massachusetts has had to contend with faulty lab testing due to a technician's actions. In 2012, Annie Dookhan was arrested and “admitted in 2013 [to] falsifying or not performing drug tests for eight years at a lab in Boston.” The result of her actions was that more than 21,500 drug cases had to be dismissed. Dookhan was also sued for her actions by “by a man who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned because of her false testing.” She was ordered to pay the man $2 million.
The main difference between the Dookhan cases and the Farak cases, according to the Washington Post, is that the prosecution moved quickly on cases where a defendant was incarcerated and eventually notified other defendants that their cases were mishandled. While Ryan believes everyone who is in jail has been told of the issues with their case, he stated that thousands could still be feeling the effects of their conviction, such as when they apply for a job.
In the criminal justice system, scientific and forensic evidence has become an increasingly big part of prosecutions. However, as the scandal in Massachusetts shows, if these tests are not deemed reliable either because of human error or technological failure, there can be massive ramifications.