If you were charged with a drug offense in Massachusetts from 2003-2013 and want find out if Annie Dookhan or Sonja Farak worked on your case, call the CPCS Public Defender Drug Lab Hotline at 1-888-999-2881 or submit an inquiry to our office using the following interactive tool:
Public Defender “Drug Lab Case” Hotline:
We are the Drug Lab Crisis Litigation Unit, part of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the Massachusetts public defender agency) dedicated to helping individuals with convictions tainted by the misconduct of former state drug lab chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak. You can make a confidential call to the hotline operated by our paralegals and attorneys.
The number is: 1-888-999-2881 and the hotline is staffed Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you call outside of these hours you can leave a message and your call will be returned on the next business day.
History of the Drug Lab Crisis:
Former Chemist Annie Dookhan
From 2003 to 2012, Annie Dookhan worked as a chemist at the Hinton State Drug Lab testing suspected controlled substances for drug offense prosecutions. In 2012 it was learned that, during the course of her employment at Hinton, Dookhan improperly tested substances, intentionally altered test results, falsified reports, and falsely testified at criminal trials. Dookhan participated in the testing of over 80,000 samples, affecting well over 20,000 cases. She was eventually prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. The Hinton Drug Lab was closed in August of 2012 due to Dookhan’s egregious misconduct and the mismanagement of the lab in general.
There have been several important court decisions about the rights of people convicted of drug offenses based on analyses performed by Annie Dookhan. As a result of the most recent decision, called Bridgeman II, over 21,000 Dookhan convictions were vacated and dismissed. Notices from the court were sent to the people whose cases were dismissed. A separate mailing was sent to approximately 300 other people with Dookhan cases to tell them how to challenge their convictions. Additional information for those individuals is provided below.
Former Chemist Sonja Farak
From 2004 to 2013, Sonja Farak was employed as a chemist at the Amherst State Drug Lab. Farak was arrested in July 2013 after the lab’s supervisor found two missing evidence samples at her work station, along with evidence of drug use. She was subsequently indicted and in 2014 pleaded guilty to evidence tampering, stealing cocaine from the lab, and possession of controlled substances.
In 2016 it was revealed that Farak had been stealing drugs and using them on the job for almost the entire period of time she had been working at the Amherst lab. Her drug use included marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, dextroamphetamine, ketamine, MDMA, MDEA, and LSD. Farak also admitted to tampering with samples that other chemists had analyzed and to stealing from the backlog of police submissions that were waiting to be assigned.
As a result of a recent lawsuit filed by CPCS, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court has already thrown out over 11,000 convictions that were obtained through the use of Farak’s work. Notices regarding this latest development have not yet been mailed out. Any individual who wishes to know the status of his or her case can call CPCS hotline. Additional information is also provided below regarding prior litigation surrounding Farak and the Amherst Drug Lab.
Former Assistant Attorneys General Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster
In 2017, following a lengthy hearing, Superior Court Judge Richard Carey found that two lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office, Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster, had purposefully withheld exculpatory evidence that showed Farak had been engaged in widespread misconduct for years. When Farak was originally prosecuted, the Attorney General’s Office publicly maintained that her misconduct only could have gone back, at most, to six months before her arrest. Evidence that had been collected by the Massachusetts State Police and forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office, however, clearly established that she had been engaged in theft and drug use for a longer period of time.
As a result of Farak’s, Kaczmarek’s, and Foster’s actions, CPCS, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, Inc., have moved for dismissal with prejudice of all of the convictions tainted by the Commonwealth’s misconduct, including cases involving samples assigned to other lab chemists. The Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in this case on May 8, 2018.
The Bridgeman II decision:
On January 18, 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court determined that over 20,000 individuals had yet to receive adequate notice that they may have been victimized by Dookhan’s misconduct. Accordingly, it ordered the District Attorneys to review, within 90 days, all the Dookhan cases they had identified in order to determine: 1) which individuals were entitled to relief; 2) which cases they would agree to vacate and dismiss; and 3) which cases they could and would re-prosecute, if the defendant won a motion for a new trial.
On April 18, 2017, the District Attorneys for Bristol, Cape and Islands, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk counties provided lists of each set of defendants to the courts where the Dookhan convictions arose:
- Individuals who already had their Dookhan related charges addressed or who pleaded guilty before she completed the testing of the substances were identified and received no benefit from the court’s decision or the DA’s actions. Any person who believes they may have been improperly placed on this list can contact CPCS for additional information.
- Individuals whose convictions on Dookhan related charges were being vacated and dismissed with prejudice were identified. On April 19, 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a declaratory judgement vacating (undoing) these convictions and dismissing the original Dookhan related charges “with prejudice,” meaning the government could never pursue the charges again. Over 21,000 drug charges were dismissed. Every individual whose charges were dismissed should have received a notice in the mail indicating the same. A copy of that notice is provided below. Each defendant’s criminal record should have been updated as of mid-summer 2017. Any defendant who wants to have their record checked to determine if it was properly updated or wants to know the status of any non-Dookhan related charges in their case can contact CPCS.
- Individuals whose convictions on Dookhan related charges were not being vacated and dismissed, because the DA’s certified they could and would re-prosecute, were also identified. Approximately 300 defendants were placed in this category. Each of these individuals should have received a separate mailing that included a detailed notice of his or her rights as well as a guidance letter from CPCS. A copy of that notice is provided below. Any such defendant who wishes to have a lawyer appointed to their case should call the “Dookhan Defendant” hotline number listed above. No action will be taken on their behalf unless CPCS is contacted. It is important for these individuals to understand that, if they choose to file a motion for a new trial, they can never face additional punishment. The Supreme Judicial Court has already ruled that, even if re-prosecuted, these defendants cannot be sentenced to any additional jail time or probation and cannot be subject to any new fines or fees. They also have other special legal rights, explained below. CPCS has hired additional staff in order to represent these individuals.
Special Legal Rights of “Dookhan Defendants”:
The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that an individual who qualifies as a “Dookhan defendant” is entitled to certain legal rights. In addition to the fact that Dookhan defendants may never face any additional punishment related to their Dookhan-tainted drug conviction(s), the SJC has ruled that such defendants have the following rights:
- The right to speak to a lawyer for advice about whether to challenge the conviction(s) and to be represented by counsel in court. If a Dookhan defendant cannot afford a lawyer, he or she will be appointed one free of charge.
- The right to a “conclusive presumption” that Ms. Dookhan committed serious misconduct in their case. This means that defendants do not have to prove that she mishandled the drug samples involved in the case.
- The right to ask a court to “vacate,” or undo, the conviction(s).
- Defendants who originally pleaded guilty have the right to withdraw their plea if they can show a “reasonable probability” that they would not have pleaded guilty if they had known about Ms. Dookhan’s misconduct.
- Defendants who were convicted at trial have the right to a new trial unless the court concludes that the Dookhan drug analysis did not influence the jury or had only a very slight effect on the jury.
What to do if you received a letter:
- If you received a “Notice of Dismissal,” pictured below, any Dookhan related drug convictions associated with the case have already been vacated (undone) and these charges have been dismissed. If you were convicted of another offense in the same case, that conviction will remain in place. Due to the number of people who were placed in this category, it took until midsummer 2017 for criminal records to be updated. You can check to see the status of your criminal record by clicking the iCORI link below. If you believe that your record was not properly updated, or if you have any other questions about your case, you can contact CPCS at the Hotline number listed above.
- If you received a “Notice of Dookhan Conviction,” pictured below, believe you are indigent (unable to pay for a lawyer), and want the court to appoint an attorney to advise and represent you, you must contact CPCS. If you have any questions about the forms, or if you wish to speak with an attorney generally before deciding to proceed, you can also call the Hotline number listed above. If you do not respond, the court will not take any action with respect to your case.
Bridgeman II Legal Notices:
The above notices also contain Spanish language translations.
Additional Information Regarding Sonja Farak:
From August 2004 until her arrest in January 2013, Sonja Farak was employed as a chemist at the Department of Public Health Drug Laboratory located in Amherst Massachusetts. Farak was indicted and on January 6, 2014 she pleaded guilty to four counts of evidence tampering, four counts of stealing cocaine, and two counts of possession of a class B substance. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in the house of correction, eighteen months to serve, with the balance suspend for five years.
While Farak’s case was pending, defense attorneys filed numerous discovery motions seeking access to materials that the Massachusetts State Police had seized following a search of her car. Lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office objected to the defendants’ motions and represented to the court that everything in the State Police’s possession had already been turned over. Several defendants filed motions for new trials and, after a consolidated hearing before Judge C. Jeffery Kinder in Hampden County Superior Court, the court ruled that the evidence only established that Farak’s misconduct extended back to June of 2012, approximately six months before her arrest.
Judge Kinder’s ruling was appealed and in Commonwealth v. Cotto, 471 Mass. 97 (2015) and Commonwealth v. Ware, 471 Mass. 85 (2015) the Supreme Judicial Court held that the state had failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the timing and scope of Farak’s misconduct, calling the investigation “cursory at best.” Cotto, 471 Mass. at 11. “When personnel at the Amherst drug lab notified the State police in January, 2013, that Farak may have compromised the evidence in two drug cases, the Commonwealth had a duty to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the nature and the extent of her misconduct, and its effect both on pending cases and on cases in which defendants already had been convicted of crimes involving controlled substances that Farak had analyzed.” Ware, 471 Mass. at 95. The Supreme Judicial Court then encouraged the Attorney General’s Office to conduct a more thorough investigation and remanded the cases back to the Superior Court.
While the Cotto and Ware cases were being appealed, defense attorneys continued to pursue access to the materials that had been seized from Farak’s car. One attorney, Luke Ryan of the law firm Sasson, Turnbull, Ryan & Hoose, was finally granted access to the evidence that had been collected the day before Farak’s arrest. This evidence included mental health worksheets that Farak had filled out after she had entered treatment for drug dependency. They proved that her theft and narcotics use went at least as far back as 2011. Defense attorneys subsequently obtained court orders for copies of Farak’s treatment records, which showed that that her drug use extended back years.
In 2016, following a second investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, it was finally revealed to the public that Farak had been stealing drugs from the Amherst Lab since she started working there in 2004. After receiving a grant of immunity, she testified before a grand jury investigating the scope of her misconduct. She told the grand jury that she began by taking quantities of methamphetamine from the lab’s stockpile of “drug standards,” which are controls that are used during forensic testing, but later moved on to other substances that the lab had on hand, and ultimately to the theft of evidence samples that had been submitted by the police. Farak admitted that she not only stole these controlled substances, but also used them while on the job, including while testing substances at the lab and while testifying in court. By the end of her career, according to Farak, she had used up several of the lab’s drug standards and was smoking crack cocaine ten to twelve times per day.
Based on the newly disclosed information, several defendants again filed for relief and a second consolidated hearing was held before Hampden Superior Court Judge Richard Carey. In June 2017, he issued a scathing opinion that not only chronicled Farak’s theft and drug use at the Amherst lab, but also detailed the lengths that lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office went to in order to hide exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys and the court. He found that two attorneys, Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster, had committed serious misconduct in withholding evidence and in making material misrepresentations to the court: “Kaczmarek’s and Foster’s intentional, repeated, prolonged and deceptive withholding of that evidence from the defendants, the court, and local prosecutors, justifies dismissal of indictments with prejudice in many cases . . . Additionally, their misconduct evinces a depth of deceptiveness that constitutes a fraud upon the court.”
Following the issuance of Judge Carey’s opinion, an attorney from the Innocence Project and a law professor from Northeastern University filed complaints against Kaczmarek and Foster with the Massachusetts Office of Bar Counsel, the entity overseeing the practice of lawyers in the Commonwealth. Their cases are still pending. Kaczmarek, who left the Attorney General’s Office in 2014, still holds a position as an assistant clerk-magistrate in Suffolk Superior Court. Foster is currently the general counsel at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
In 2017, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, along with the ACLU of Massachusetts and Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, Inc., and two named Farak defendants filed suit against the Attorney General’s Office and all of the state’s District Attorneys’ Offices. The petitioners sought sweeping relief: dismissal with prejudice of all of the convictions tainted by the Commonwealth’s misconduct. They also asked the Court to establish new rules designed to address and prevent potential future prosecutorial misconduct. Oral arguments in the case were held on May 8, 2018. The District Attorneys’, however, have already agreed to vacate over 11,000 convictions that were obtained through the use of Sonja Farak’s work.
Legal Documents Related to the Farak/Amherst Litigation:
Drug Lab Crisis Litigation Unit
7 Palmer Street, Suite 302
Roxbury, MA 02119
Main: (617) 445-7581
Fax: (617) 427-1320
Office Hours (Monday – Friday): 9:00am – 5:00pm
Our office entrance is located on Palmer Street which connects Washington Street and Harrison Avenue in Roxbury. A 2 hour parking lot is located adjacent to building; off street parking is also available. We are also a three minute walk from the Dudley T Station. See T schedule/routes near you
Attorney in Charge
Nancy J. Caplan (617) 516-5815
Veronica G. Barros
Direct Line: (617) 516-5831
Office Hours: M-F 9:30-4pm
Matthew Harper-Nixon (617) 516-5031
Benjamin Leatherman (617) 445-7581
Patricia Muse (617) 516-5805
Christopher K. Post (617) 516-5825
Andrew Pappone (617) 516-5832
Daniel Jaffe (617) 516-5824
Bar Association Lawyer Referral Services:
Individuals who do not qualify for a court appointed attorney can contact the following bar association lawyer referral services:
- Massachusetts Bar Association 1-866-627-7577
- Boston Bar Association 1-800-552-7046
- National Lawyers Guild, Massachusetts Chapter 617-227-7008
- Barnstable County Bar Association – 508-362-2121
- Bristol County Bar Association – 508-990-1303
- Essex County Bar Association – 978-741-7888
- Middlesex County Bar Association – 781-939-2797
- Norfolk County Bar Association – 617-471-9693
- Plymouth County Bar Association – 508-584-6600
Individuals who wish to check their criminal record can visit the following Commonwealth of Massachusetts website:
Dookhan Related Court Decisions:
Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, 476 Mass. 298 (2017) (‘Bridgeman II’)
Supreme Judicial Court, January 18, 2017 (opinion)
The SJC adopts a new protocol for case-by-case adjudication of drug cases potentially tainted by Dookhan’s misconduct. To accomplish case-by-case adjudication, the new protocol is to be completed in three phases. It will be implemented by the single justice in the form of a declaratory judgment. The District Attorneys were ordered to submit lists of convictions they intended to vacate and dismiss by April 18, 2017.
Commonwealth v. Francis, 474 Mass. 816 (2016)
Supreme Judicial Court, July 20, 2016 (opinion)
A defendant who was convicted after trial based upon Dookhan’s involvement is entitled to a presumption of egregious government misconduct. The conviction is to be vacated if it can be shown that, apart from the drug certificates, the evidence regarding the identity of the controlled substances was not overwhelming.
Commonwealth v. Ruffin, 475 Mass. 1003 (2016)
Supreme Judicial Court, August 9, 2016 (opinion)
Where the drug certificates involved in the defendant’s case indicate that Dookhan analyzed the drugs after the defendant pleaded, there is no presumption that her misconduct tainted the case.
Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, 471 Mass. 465 (2015) (‘Bridgeman I’)
Supreme Judicial Court, May 18, 2015 (opinion)
A defendant who has been granted a new trial based on Chemist Annie Dookhan’s misconduct at the Hinton drug lab cannot (1) be charged with more serious offenses than those of which they initially were convicted; and (2) if convicted again, cannot be given sentences longer than those that originally were imposed.
Commonwealth v. Scott, 467 Mass. 336 (2014)
Supreme Judicial Court, March 5, 2014 (opinion)
In cases where Dookhan signed the certificate of drug analysis as either the primary or secondary chemist, the defendant is entitled to a conclusive presumption that misconduct occurred in the case, that it was egregious, and that it was attributable to the Commonwealth. The defendant is entitled to a new trial if he can demonstrate a reasonable probability that knowledge of the misconduct would have been material to the decision to plea.
Commonwealth v. Charles, 466 Mass. 63 (2013)
Supreme Judicial Court, July 22, 2013 (opinion)
In certain circumstances a Superior Court judge does have the authority to allow a defendant’s motion to stay the execution of his sentence, then being served, pending disposition of the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
Office of the Inspector General Reports:
On March 4, 2014, the Office of the Inspector General released a report detailing the results of its investigation into Dookhan’s misconduct and other issues at the Hinton Drug Laboratory, where she worked. It issued a supplemental report on February 2, 2016.