First Drug Conviction Vacated In Wake Of Drug Lab Scandal

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A convicted drug dealer will walk out of jail Thursday after his conviction was vacated by a Superior Court judge. Both the prosecutor and the defense agreed that David Danielli should be freed because the alleged actions of a chemist at a state drug lab had deprived him of his constitutional rights.

Danielli was stopped in March 2011 by the Quincy Police Drug Control Unit. They suspected him of dealing drugs and a search of his car found $3,900 and nearly 600 tablets later identified as oxycodone.

Facing nine years of prison based on the state's minimum mandatory sentences, Danielli pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a county jail.

"On or about February 1 of 2012, our office was notified of a possible breach of protocol within the Department of Public Health," said Norfolk County Assistant District Attorney George Papachristos, whose office convicted Danielli.

Annie Dookhan, who the Department of Public Health calls a "rogue chemist," was responsible for testing the evidence confiscated from Danielli. It was later discovered that Dookhan may have tainted some 60,000 samples she tested for drugs.

Dookhan analyzed the evidence against Danielli and identified it as oxycodone on July 1, 2011, 10 days after she was supposedly suspended from her duties by the health department.

Assistant District Attorney George Papachristos joined defense attorney John T. Martin in filing the motion for Danielli to withdraw his guilty plea. Papachristos expressed his own contempt for the assurances first given by Department of Public Health.

"Neither counsel nor I or the district attoney's office knew about the extent of what was happening," Papachristos said "The description in the letter that the Department of Public Health gave was in fact grossly misstated."

Judge Paul Troy ruled that because of the tainted testing by Dookhan, the guilty plea by the defendant was neither knowing nor voluntary and vacated the conviction.

And what about the criminal case that began back in March 2011? Police claimed at the time that Danielli and a passenger admitted to selling narcotics, and field tests showed it was oxycodone before it ever went to Dookhan. But any future prosecution may now be impossible, according to Martin.

"There have been allegations that because of evidence being mixed, tainted or changed that retesting may not solve the issue at all," Martin said.

Danieli will go free without bail. The first prisoner in this scandal to be released in what may become the new normal.

“Everyone who has been convicted of a crime related to drug in Norfolk, Suffolk and possibly other counties in the last five to six years was possibly the victim of a very substantial miscarriage of justice," Martin said. "And, on the other, hand a lot of very dangerous people might get out of jail.”

This program aired on September 20, 2012.

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David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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