The fallout from a significant Massachusetts drug lab scandal that has caused tens of thousands of drug cases to be tossed out because of misconduct by two former chemists, Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak, could potentially affect thousands more criminal drug cases today.
Newly released emails from a forensic consultant suggest even more chemists responsible for testing drugs for evidence should have been investigated and more cases thrown out.
Criminal defense attorney Jim McKenna joined WBUR's Morning Edition to talk about the new developments. Here are highlights from the interview, lightly edited for clarity.
On new revelations about disgraced chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak
[Farak] is someone who did heroin, who did cocaine, who used meth and tested drugs, and this was both at the Hinton Lab in Boston and at Amherst. And no one has looked at what she did in Boston. We have findings from the court on this now. We've had her medical records. There was some grand jury testimony, which is by Sonja Farak and not the most credible. But we've got a series of documentations of her drug use in both places. She admitted during the grand jury testimony to have used drugs in both places and the medical records establish she was using drugs before she began work in Hinton.
On a forensic consultant's warnings about more misconduct
There were seven chemists who had produced numbers of results which are consistent with misconduct. Dookhan's misconduct in Boston was characterized by reporting vast numbers of results, which you can do if you're not actually doing the testing. And the concern by the consultant was, at various times, these seven people did the same thing. And so they should be looked at. And none of them were. The problem here is not the chemists themselves. The problem is the failure to investigate.
"In theory, every test reported by every one of those seven chemists could be completely accurate. But without investigation, not one should be considered reliable."
On the state's claim that it thoroughly investigated the allegations
They said Dookhan was the sole bad actor in Boston, which everyone accepted when that was published in March of 2014. In June of 2015, attorney Luke Ryan, who is the hero of this whole project, obtained records, medical records of Farak, which showed she used meth while in Boston. And in that March 2014 report, there's nothing about that.
In general terms, the inspector general's materials are kept confidential. We've had to remove from that general blanket anything we can use, anything that's material to the case. And over the course of the last — now — two years, we've been trying to establish, in fact, there was no investigation of Sonja Farak. The way we did that was by asking for any records of that investigation, presuming there weren't any. We eventually established that, in fact, there was no investigation.
To get there, the Superior Court judge ordered the Middlesex DA's to review the records of the inspector general. It required six orders by that judge and one by the Superior Court, the last once being accompanied by a threat of sanctions, before the Middlesex DA's office finally reported in January of this year what it was supposed to have done as of last summer.
On how the findings will affect current drug convictions
Every conviction based on the 9,135 tests reported by Farak in Boston will go away. That's the minimum. Beyond that, we're talking about 89,000 tests run by the chemists who should have investigated but weren't. That's what's on the table. This is now about the prosecutors. In theory, every test reported by every one of those seven chemists could be completely accurate. But without investigation, not one should be considered reliable.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the chemist, Sonja Farak, in a paragraph describing her drug use while working for the state's drug labs. The post has been updated. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on July 17, 2020.
This segment aired on July 17, 2020.