FAMM Brief Urges Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Protect Rights of Drug Lab Defendants Who Challenge Their Convictions | FAMM

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FAMM Brief Urges Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Protect Rights of Drug Lab Defendants Who Challenge Their Convictions

Categories: Featured, Newsroom, Press Release

MEDIA CONTACT: Barbara J. Dougan, FAMM’s Massachusetts Project Director, bdougan@famm.org

BOSTON – Today, the Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in the case of Bridgeman v. District Attorney of Suffolk County. The case was brought by three people who pleaded guilty to drug charges, not knowing that former drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan was involved in testing the evidence. These defendants are now asking the state’s top court to issue fair, efficient and comprehensive guidelines in order to resolve their cases and more than 40,000 other cases affected by the drug lab crisis. Although Dookhan’s widespread and egregious misconduct was discovered in 2011, in thousands of those cases the defendants have yet to be notified that Dookhan may have tampered with their evidence. Those who have challenged their convictions have been required to seek relief from the courts on a case-by-case basis, a process that could take many more years. 

Many Dookhan defendants are hesitant to challenge their convictions, especially if they gave up their right to a jury trial and instead pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced charges and a shorter sentence. They fear that prosecutors may reinstate the original charges, subjecting them to harsher punishment than they originally received – which usually takes the form of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) filed a “friend of the court” brief with the SJC, urging it to rule that District Attorneys may not threaten defendants who challenge their convictions with additional charges and/or longer sentences than prosecutors originally accepted.

“No one should be penalized for challenging a sentence that may have been based on fraud or lies,” said Barbara J. Dougan, FAMM’s Massachusetts Project Director. “It’s unconstitutional to convict someone using tainted evidence. But you don’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that punishing someone for seeking justice is just plain wrong.”

Twenty-four other organizations joined FAMM’s call for fairness, including criminal justice, religious and academic groups (a complete list can be found below).

“The number and range of groups that added their names to our brief shows how widespread the harm from the drug lab crisis has been, and the extent to which the public demands a criminal justice system with integrity and accountability,” Dougan said.

The law firm of Ropes & Gray provided pro bono legal services to draft the brief. According to partner Aaron M. Katz, “Extraordinary misconduct took place at the drug lab, which helped prosecutors obtain thousands of convictions over the years. Prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to simply re-start a case as if nothing happened. There must be consequences for massive government fraud.”

Organizations that joined FAMM’s brief:

Arise for Social Action

Black and Pink

Blackstonian

Boston Workers Alliance

Brookline PAX

Center for Church and Prison

Criminal Justice Policy Coalition

Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement (EPOCA)

Families for Justice as Healing

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice

NAACP, New England Area Conference

National Lawyers Guild, Massachusetts Chapter

New Start Project

Partakers

Prisoners’ Legal Services

Real Cost of Prisons Project

Span

STRIVE/Boston Employment Service

Survivors, Inc.

Trinity Chapel

Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy

Union of Minority Neighborhoods

UU (Unitarian Universalist) Mass Action Network