[Mostly White] Mass. Prosecutors slammed for withholding evidence from [disproportionately Black] Defendants in drug lab scandal

From [HERE] Twice in recent years, chemists used by the state of Massachusetts to test drugs in criminal cases committed massive misconduct in their testing, affecting tens of thousands of cases. And twice, prosecutors in Massachusetts failed to act promptly to notify most defendants of the problem.

Instead, the prosecutors have taken years to seek justice for the defendants affected by the bad drug testing in both episodes, causing some people to wrongly spend years in prison.

In the first case, after five years, the Massachusetts supreme court eventually forced state prosecutors to compile a list of affected defendants and ultimately dismiss 98.5 percent of the cases involved, with more than 21,000 drug convictions erased. In the second case, discovered in 2013 but still unfolding, a judge concluded recently that two prosecutors committed “intentional, repeated, prolonged and deceptive withholding of evidence from the defendants” and that “their misconduct evinces a depth of deceptiveness that constitutes a fraud upon the court.”

The two prosecutors, former assistant attorneys general Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster, have since moved on to higher-paying jobs elsewhere in the state government. But still no steps have been taken to fully identify the thousands of cases handled by Sonja Farak, a chemist who admitted that she was high nearly every day while analyzing drug samples submitted by police from 2005 to 2013, and who has already been convicted and served her time. In many cases, authorities can’t retest the drugs that Farak originally certified because, well, Farak used them.

So 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. It has now been 4½ years since Farak’s arrest in January 2013.

“I have no idea why they haven’t given us a list” of defendants, said Rebecca A. Jacobstein of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which oversees public defenders and appointed defense counsel in Massachusetts. She noted that in August 2016, the state’s district attorneys conceded that Farak’s actions warranted “a conclusive presumption of misconduct” in all of her cases, but still “no identifications were made and no notices went out.” Farak pleaded guilty in 2014, and defense attorneys then discovered that her in-lab drug abuse had gone on for years, not months.

Marian Ryan, the district attorney of Middlesex County, Mass., and head of the state district attorneys’ association, declined to be interviewed. She issued a statement after the suit was filed acknowledging that identifying and notifying the Farak defendants was the prosecutors’ responsibility. She said all 11 district attorneys “are working to ensure that all defendants who may have been adversely affected are identified,” but she would not answer questions about why this had not occurred after 4½ years.

In 2013, the district attorneys’ association issued a statement shortly after Farak was arrested, saying that prosecutors were “committed to ensuring that the rights of all defendants are properly respected” and would “remain proactive in identifying cases, notifying defense counsel and bringing them before the court.” But it hasn’t happened. [MORE]