How To Repair Mass Injustice
WGBH - 06/30/2016
The Supreme Judicial Court recently heard oral arguments concerning how the Commonwealth should handle the cases affected by the misdeeds of Annie Dookhan, the former state crime lab chemist who engaged in a pattern of tampering with evidence. The joint efforts of prosecutors, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and others have established more than 24,000 cases tainted by her handiwork from 2003-2012. What should be done about the convictions in those cases?
At this month’s hearing, the ACLU and the Committee for Public Counsel Services asked a single justice of the Court—Margot Botsford—to “report” a question to the full bench on whether to fashion a comprehensive remedy that would dismiss all of the convictions or at least install a court-imposed deadline to settle the matter. Prosecutors are resistant to the idea of global dismissal. Instead, they want to provide individual notice alerting the affected defendants about the option of a new trial. Such an approach would allow prosecutors to take a case-by-case approach, potentially retrying cases against offenders perceived to be serious and/or dangerous.