In a move that could affect tens of thousands of drug convictions in Boston and the rest of Suffolk County, District Attorney Rachael Rollins pledged on Monday to vacate any that are tied to two convicted Massachusetts state drug lab chemists.
Anyone whose drug certification was done by Annie Dookhan or Sonja Farak at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute, which was closed in the wake of the 2012 drug lab scandal, between 2003 and 2012 can apply to have the conviction vacated under what Rollins is calling the Hinton Lab Initiative.
"The time has come to fully address the impact of systemic misconduct in the Hinton Lab. In doing so, the Commonwealth embraces the high standard that our Constitution requires… It may never be early enough to address such egregious and systemic misconduct, but it is never too late to rectify the injustice suffered by so many individuals," Rollins said in a court filing announcing the move.
Rollins has previously vacated scores of convictions linked to Dookhan, whom authorities discovered had tampered with evidence and falsified thousands of tests in criminal cases. She eventually served three years in prison.
A 2017 court ruling ordered prosecutors to throw out 7,800 convictions, according to Rollins' office, but about 74,800 certifications conducted by the lab that haven't yet been reviewed -- those are the subject of the Hinton Lab Initiative, though the exact number of people affected remains unclear, since one certification may be used for multiple defendants, and vice versa.
Rollins office will work with affected defendants to have their records cleared, prosecutors said, and anyone who thinks they be able to participate can visit suffolkdistrictattorney.com. However, only drug convictions will be cleared, not things like gun convictions that stem from the same cases.
The head of the ACLU of Massachusetts applauded Rollins' pledge as delivering "some justice" to people wrongfully convicted "based on faulty evidence and a government cover-up," and offered to work with her and other like-minded district attorneys.
"We hope other district attorneys follow suit, allowing more people to move forward with their lives," ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose said in a statement.