SJC Hands Down Drug Lab Decisions

Post Date: March 6, 2014

On Tuesday, we told you about the drug lab report issued by Massachusetts’ Office of the Inspector General.  Yesterday, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued its decision in six drug lab cases that were argued last fall.  The SJC did not throw out any cases.  But the Court did make it easier for drug defendants to withdraw guilty pleas and ask for a new trial if Annie Dookhan was one of the chemists or analysts listed on their drug certificate.

Dookhan as primary or secondary chemist.  For cases where Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist who tested the drugs, there is a “conclusive presumption” that egregious misconduct occurred on the part of the government.  (She was the primary or secondary chemist if her name is listed on the drug certificate as an “assistant analyst.”)  If those drug defendants file motions to withdraw their guilty pleas, they won’t need to prove that Dookhan tampered with their evidence.  However, they must still show that they would not have pleaded guilty if they had known about Dookhan’s misconduct.  The trial court will then decide if the person should get a new trial, on a case-by-case basis.  Commonwealth v. Rakim Scott is the case that sets out the SJC’s full reasoning. You can read it here.

Dookhan as notary.  If Dookhan’s only involvement was to notarize another chemist’s signature, that’s not enough to presume that misconduct occurred.  The SJC notes that neither the State Police nor the Inspector General could find evidence that Dookhan had tampered with other chemists’ cases. 

Cases from the Hinton lab with no Dookhan involvement.  The SJC won’t presume that misconduct occurred just because the drugs were tested at the Hinton lab while Dookhan worked there.  However, yesterday’s report from the Office of the Inspector General might provide drug defendants with grounds for challenges to their test results.   

What this means for prisoners or those with pending cases.  Prisoner or defendants should contact their defense attorneys if Annie Dookhan’s name is listed as an “assistant analyst” on their drug certificates, to see if the SJC’s decision might affect their cases.  If their defense attorney is no longer available, they can call the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the public defender’s office) at 1-800-882-2095 and ask for the “drug lab hotline.”


Barbara J. Dougan
Massachusetts Project Director
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)

Contact FAMM’s Massachusetts Project:
By phone: (617) 543-0878
By email:
By mail: P.O. Box 54, Arlington, MA 02476