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Mass. High Court May Rule On Drug Lab Cases

BOSTON — A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice has agreed to stay the potential release of a defendant convicted in a case in which evidence was tested by former chemist Annie Dookhan. It’s the first move in what is ultimately a case that questions the authority of the special magistrates who are reviewing cases involving the state drug lab crisis.

Essex County prosecutors asked (PDF) the high court to put off the stay of the man’s sentence until later this month, when they plan to file a motion that questions whether the magistrates have the power to stay sentences while motions for a new trial are pending. The sentences are for those convicted on evidence tested by Dookhan.

She has been charged with manipulating drug tests, potentially compromising tens of thousands of criminal cases. The state has set up special court sessions where magistrates are reviewing those cases. Hundreds of sentences have been stayed; dozens of defendants have been released.

The prosecutors asked for the stay as they prepare to file another motion this month, which, they say, “will raise substantial claims of irremediable error, or systemic misapplication of the law requiring the Court’s intervention.”

Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford on Friday allowed (PDF) the prosecutors’ emergency motion to stay the defendant’s potential release, until further notice by the court. This is the first time the state’s highest court has taken up a case involving the drug lab crisis.

The defendant in this case pleaded guilty to drug and gun charges in 2010. In December, he asked for a new trial because the drugs were tested by Dookhan at the now-closed Hinton lab in Jamaica Plain. Last month, a special magistrate allowed a stay of his sentence and said he could be released on $5,000 bail with conditions such as wearing a GPS monitoring device.

- Related: Interview with Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett:

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