SJC tosses more than 24,000 tainted convictions connected to Amherst drug lab

  • Sonja Farak, 35, of Northampton, a former chemist at the state crime lab in Amherst, appears before Hampshire Superior Court Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder in Northampton on Monday, April 24, 2013, for her arraignment on multiple counts of evidence tampering, drug theft and drug possession.KEVIN GUTTING KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 9/25/2019 11:47:32 PM

BOSTON — Thousands of drug convictions have been tossed in Massachusetts because of a former state drug lab chemist who worked while high almost every day.

A report filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Judicial Court says more than 24,000 convictions in 16,449 cases have been dismissed as a result of the scandal in which Sonja Farak, of Northampton, was the subject. She pleaded guilty to stealing drugs from an Amherst lab for her own use in 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

In Feburary, it was reported that 10,912 charges in 7,554 cases had been dismissed as a result of Farak’s misconduct.

The SJC ruled in October 2018 that Massachusetts must dismiss all methamphetamine-related convictions based on drug evidence tested at the Amherst lab for the nine years Farak worked there, as well as all convictions involving drug evidence from the lab between Jan. 1, 2009, and Jan. 18, 2013, when the lab closed.

A state investigation found that Farak was high on methamphetamine and other drugs for the majority of her tenure at the lab, including when she testified in court on drug charges.

The SJC had previously concluded that two assistant attorneys general had committed “fraud upon the court” by intentionally withholding evidence from defendants in drug cases that would have revealed the extent of Farak’s wrongdoing.

At the time, Justice Frank Gaziano wrote that both the prosecutorial misconduct and Farak’s “widespread evidence tampering” required the court to vacate thousands of drug cases, as the integrity of each conviction had been compromised.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the dismissals represent a “historic victory” for people wrongfully convicted of drug crimes based on unreliable evidence.

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