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SJC Says No Jail Time Credit Allowed, Even If Conviction Is Vacated Due To Gov't Misconduct

Criminal defendants in Massachusetts cannot get credit for time they spent behind bars — even if their conviction was later vacated because of government misconduct.

That's what the state's highest court ruled Tuesday in the case of Braulio Caliz, who argued that he deserved credit for the time he served in prison before his conviction was dismissed because of the Amherst drug lab scandal.

His conviction was among about 24,000 others vacated after former Amherst chemist Sonja Farak admitted to compromising drug evidence by personally using drugs she was supposed to be testing for criminal cases.

Caliz's attorneys argued that because Caliz was incarcerated for nine months before his conviction was vacated, that time should be deducted from a new sentence in another case.

"This case involves the intersection of the defendant's convictions with one of the biggest scandals in the Commonwealth's justice system in decades," Justice David Lowy wrote. Nevertheless, the high court said, "We hold the defendant is not entitled to mandatory credit in this case."

The justices also rejected the argument from Caliz's attorneys that the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office was also to blame for not disclosing the extent of Farak's drug use.

Initially, state prosecutors said Farak had used drugs for a few months. It was later revealed that she had been using drugs on the job for years, tainting even more criminal cases than first believed.

"We have previously recognized the egregiousness of misconduct at multiple levels of government in connection with the Amherst lab scandal," Justice Lowy wrote. "We do not, however, accept the defendant's invitation to equate the government misconduct here with actual innocence."

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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