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Top Massachusetts Court Affords Enhanced Protections to Dookhan Defendants

The top court in Massachusetts recently ruled that a so-called Dookhan Defendant – a person who entered a guilty plea on the basis of drug analyses certified by Annie Dookhan – “who has been granted a new trial based on Dookhan’s misconduct at the Hinton drug lab cannot be charged with a more serious offense than that of which he or she initially was convicted under the terms of a plea agreement and, if convicted again, cannot be given a more severe sentence than that which originally was imposed.” Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, No. SJC-11764 (May 18, 2015). For those who are unfamiliar with Ms. Dookhan, she “was involved in more than 46,000 cases at the Hinton laboratory from 2003 until her resignation in 2012. Her work was critical to the criminal justice process because she had to certify that drugs were an illegal substance[, and] Dookhan’s wrongdoing led to multiple state charges that she tampered with evidence by either mixing substances or falsely declaring their results.” Milton F. Valencia, Pattern of neglect at state drug lab found, The Boston Globe (March 4, 2014).

Up until Bridgeman was decided, the risk of receiving harsher charges or punishments as a result of successfully withdrawing guilty pleas stopped many people affected by Dookhan’s misconduct from pursuing their rights to a new trial with untainted evidence. In fact, footnote 17 of the Bridgeman opinion discusses a person to whom this happened – he got a new trial based on the evidence tainted by Dookhan, was convicted using untainted evidence, and received a harsher sentence than had been imposed when he originally pleaded guilty.  However, after Bridgeman, anyone who previously feared such a course of events should be relieved.

John Martin, the head of the criminal practice here at KJC Law Firm, LLC, has unique experience in this area. He was the first lawyer to successfully move a court to allow a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea because it was based on evidence that had been tainted by Dookhan.  See Denise Lavoie and Bob Salsberg, Annie Dookhan, Chemist, Allegedly Tampers With 60,000 Drug Samples; Convicts Released, Huffington Post (September 20, 2012, 1:29 p.m.).   Now that it is guaranteed that those who pleaded guilty on the basis of evidence tainted by Dookhan will not receive harsher punishments if they succeed in withdrawing their guilty pleas, it is all the more reason for such people to consider seeking a new trial. The worst case scenario is being retried and reconvicted, with no more punishment added on top of what was imposed as a result of the original guilty plea.  The best case scenario is having the guilty plea vacated, and the original charges dropped.  In any event, if you, or anyone you know is a so called Dookhan Defendant, you should consider calling KJC Law Firm, LLC to discuss your options.