Beginning in 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") ordered the dismissal of nearly 40,000 drug cases arising from the misconduct of two state chemists, Annie Dookhan at the Hinton Drug Lab and Sonja Farak at the Amherst Drug Lab. Fick & Marx, with co-counsel from Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose of Northampton, have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the wrongfully-convicted defendants.
Timeline of Events
On January 9, 2014, due to the misconduct of former state chemist Annie Dookhan (Dookhan) at the Hinton Drug Lab, three "Dookhan defendants" filed a petition with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) seeking relief for themselves and thousands of other defendants convicted of drug crimes for which Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist who signed the drug certificates.
1/9/2014 Petition, Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, et al.
On January 18, 2017, in Bridgeman v. District Attorney, the SJC ordered the District Attorneys for the seven eastern counties (Bristol, Cape & Islands, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk) to submit lists of Dookhan defendants whose cases would not be re-prosecuted if the Court granted them new trials or permitted them to withdraw their guilty pleas. The order also stated that the Court would vacate and dismiss with prejudice all such cases identified by the District Attorneys.
Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, et al., 476 Mass. 298 (2017)
On April 19, 2017, after receiving the lists submitted by the seven District Attorneys, SJC Justice Frank Gaziano issued an order officially dismissing 21,587 drug convictions of Dookhan defendants.
4/19/2017 Declaratory Judgment, Bridgeman
That same day, in Nelson v. Colorado, the United States Supreme Court ruled that whenever a court invalidates a defendant's criminal conviction and no retrial of the underlying charges will occur, the state must refund fees, court costs, and restitution paid by the defendant as a result of his or her conviction.
Nelson v. Colorado, 137 S.Ct. 1249 (2017)
On September 20, 2017, due to the misconduct of former state chemist Sonja Farak (Farak) at the Amherst Drug Lab, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, and two "Farak defendants" filed a petition with the SJC seeking the dismissal with prejudice of all Farak-related drug convictions.
9/20/2017 Petition Seeking Relief Pursuant to G.L. c. 211 §3 and c. 231A §1, CPCS v. Attorney General
On February 23, 2018, three Dookhan defendants, represented by the law firms of Sasson, Turnbull, Ryan & Hoose (STRH) and Fick & Marx LLP (F&M), filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 20,000 wrongfully convicted Dookhan defendants. Based on Nelson v. Colorado, the complaint alleged that Dookhan defendants, as a class, were entitled to refunds of the substantial fines and fees that they paid as a result of their now-vacated drug convictions. The complaint further alleged that class members deserve compensation for money and property that was seized and forfeited by the police and prosecutors.
2/23/2018 Class Action Press Release
2/23/2018 Class Action Complaint filed with the U.S. District Court, Foster v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, et al.
On April 5, 2018, Justice Gaziano issued an order officially dismissing approximately 7,500 drug convictions of Farak defendants.
4/5/2018 Declaratory Judgment, CPCS v. Attorney General
On August 20, 2018, attorneys for STRH and F&M filed an amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Martinez on behalf of the Plaintiffs in the federal class action lawsuit. Due, in part, to the systemic management problems that plagued Trial Court's collection of fees and fines during the Farak and Dookhan eras, STRH and F&M argued that while exonerated Dookhan and Farak defendants had the right to file individual motions for refunds, the pending federal class action was the proper means to compensate all class members who are entitled to the refunds in their criminal cases.
8/20/2018 Brief of Stacy Foster, Jamie Kimball, Jonathan Riley, Nicole Westcott, and a Proposed Class of all Others Similarly Situated, as Amici Curiae
On September 6, 2018, STRH and F&M filed an amended complaint in the federal class action. This new complaint brought additional claims on behalf of a Farak defendant and the other 7,500 wrongfully convicted Farak defendants whose drug convictions had been vacated and dismissed by this point.
9/6/2018 First Amended Class Action Complaint, Foster federal case
One week later, on September 13, 2018, the parties to the federal class action filed a joint motion to stay this proceeding to allow the parties to continue settlement negotiations that began shortly after the original complaint was filed. This motion was allowed.
9/13/2018 Joint Motion to Stay Proceedings, Foster federal case
On October 11, 2018, in Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General, the SJC ordered all the District Attorneys to vacate and dismiss with prejudice the convictions in all drug cases against "Farak defendants." In doing so, the SJC expanded the definition of "Farak defendants" to include all individuals whose convictions involved (1) drug certificates signed by Farak as the primary or second chemist; (2) drugs tested in the Amherst lab between January 1, 2009 and January 18, 2013, regardless of who signed the drug certificate; or (3) methamphetamine at any time when Farak worked in the Amherst lab. This definition increased the class of wrongfully convicted "Farak defendants" to over 16,000 individuals.
Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General, et al., 480 Mass. 700 (2018)
Shortly thereafter, on October 30, 2018, in Martinez, the SJC directed the parties to the federal class action to file a report with the Single Justice for the SJC within six months concerning the status of the class action litigation.
Commonwealth v. Martinez, 480 Mass. 777 (2018)
The parties to the federal class action sought an extension of the stay on January 29, 2019. In this motion, the parties reported making substantial progress on a global resolution of certain claims and noted the need to analyze a large amount of data related to payments made by tens of thousands class members.
1/29/2019 Joint Motion to Stay Proceedings, Foster federal case
On April 30, 2019, as the SJC had ordered, the parties to the federal class action filed a status report. Among other things, the report stated that:
The parties… currently agree that 10 categories of case-related payments are refundable to the extent they were made upon and as a consequence of now-vacated Dookhan and Farak-related convictions and would not have been assessed but for the now-vacated convictions. Seven of these categories are payments made in connection with Trial Court proceedings: probation fees; victim-witness assessments or surcharges; court costs; Ch. 94C fines and surfines; drug analysis criminal assessment fees; GPS monitoring costs (to the extent attributable to post-conviction monitoring); and restitution. The remaining three categories are payments collected by state agencies: DNA collection fees, collected by the Massachusetts State Police; parole supervision fees, collected by the Massachusetts Parole Board; and driver's license reinstatement fees, collected by the Registry of Motor Vehicles at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
On June 13, 2019, the parties to the federal class action filed a joint statement in which they outlined a proposed process for refunding the 10 categories of case-related payments listed above through a separate state court class action and litigating forfeiture-related claims in federal court at the conclusion of the state court case.
6/13/2019 Joint Submission on Class Certification, Foster federal case
On October 29, 2019, as planned, STRH and F&M filed the state court class action lawsuit on behalf of the Dookhan and Farak defendants who are entitled to the refund of monies that they paid as a result of their invalidated drug convictions.
10/29/2019 Class Action Complaint filed with the Suffolk Superior Court, Foster state court case
In the coming months, it is expected that the parties to the state court class action will ask a Suffolk Superior Court to certify a class of Dookhan and Farak defendants entitled to the refund of conviction-based payments, give preliminary approval to a settlement agreement, and schedule the case for a fairness hearing. Once a judge determines the terms and conditions of the proposed settlement agreement are fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests of the Class, a Settlement Administrator will receive authorization to distribute payments to Class members.
Submit Your Case Information
If you were convicted of a drug charge and believe you were affected by either of the drug lab scandals, or if you’ve received a letter from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court notifying you that your conviction has been dismissed, use this form to submit information concerning your case and to be notified of any updates in the class action lawsuit.
You may also call Attorney Luke Ryan at (413) 586-4800. Please note that due to call volume, you will likely be instructed to leave him a voicemail message. He will return your call, though it may take a few weeks.
Institute for Justice: Civil Forfeiture
Harvard Law School: Criminal Justice Policy ProgramReports
Mass. Trial Court Fees & Fines Working Group: Report to Trial Court Chief Justice (Nov. 17, 2016)
Senator Mike Barrett: Fine Time Massachusetts: Judges, Poor People, and Debtors' Prison in the 21st Century (Nov. 7, 2016)
Boston Bar Assoc. Criminal Justice Reform Working Group: No Time to Wait: Recommendations for a Fair and Effective Criminal Justice System (Sept. 2017)
U.S. Council of Economic Advisers, Fines, Fees, & Bail: Payments in the Criminal Justice System that Disproportionately Impact the Poor (Dec. 2015)
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Targeted Fines & Fees Against Communities of Color (Sept. 2017)
U.S. Department of Justice: Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department (Mar. 4, 2015)
Prison Policy Initiative: Suspending Common Sense in Massachusetts: Driver's license suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to driving (May 14, 2014)
Prison Policy Initiative: Punishing Poverty: The high cost of probation fees in Massachusetts (Dec. 8, 2015)
Institute for Justice: Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture (2nd ed. 2015)
Dan Kopf, Priceonomics: The Fining of Black America (June 24, 2016)
Brennan Center for Justice: The Steep Costs of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines: A Fiscal Analysis of Three States and Ten Counties (Nov. 2019)
Brennan Center for Justice: The Hidden Costs of Florida's Criminal Justice Fees (Mar. 23, 2010)
Brennan Center for Justice: Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry (Oct. 4, 2010)
Brennan Center for Justice: Maryland’s Parole Supervision Fee: A Barrier to Reentry (Mar. 23, 2009)
The Fortune Society: Understanding Criminal Justice Debt (Oct. 4, 2017)
Institute for Justice: Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue? (June 2019)Speeches
Hon. Margaret Marshall: At the Tipping Point: State Courts & the Balance of Power (Nov. 10, 2009)
Hon. Ralph D. Gants: State of the Judiciary (Oct. 20, 2015)News Articles
National Public Radio: As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price (May 19, 2014)
Kirsten D. Levingston, Prison Legal News: Making the Bad Guy Pay: The Growing Use of Cost Shifting as an Economic Sanction (Apr. 15, 2008)
Todd Feathers, Lowell Sun: Property seizures a windfall for police (Nov. 8, 2015)
Jessica Trufant & Laura Krantz, Metro Daily News: Drug money pads DA, police budgets (Feb. 17, 2013)
Nick Sibilla, Forbes: Minnesota Now Requires A Criminal Conviction Before People Can Lose Their Property To Forfeiture (May 7, 2014)
US News: Colorado Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill (June 9, 2017)
Institute for Justice: New Jersey Governor Signs New Conviction Requirement for Civil Forfeiture (Jan. 21, 2020)
Jason Furman and Sandra Black, The Huffington Post (blog): Fines, Fees, and Bail: An Overlooked Part of the Criminal Justice System That Disproportionately Impacts the Poor (Dec. 3, 2015)
National Public Radio: Special Series: Guilty and Charged
Worcester Telegram: Millions of US drivers lose licenses for failing to pay court fees, study finds (Sept. 26, 2017)
PublicSource: The Trust Cost of Court Debt (Feb. 6, 2020)
Chip Mellor, Forbes: Civil Forfeiture Laws and the Continued Assault on Private Property (June 8, 2011)
Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post: Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year (Nov. 23, 2015)Policy Papers
Conference of State Court Administrators: 2011-2012 Policy Paper: Courts Are Not Revenue Centers
Alexandra Bastien, PolicyLink: Ending the Debt Trap: Strategies to Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees (Mar. 2017)
Harvard Law School: Proportionate Financial Sanctions: Policy Prescriptions for Judicial Reform (Sept. 2019)
National Consumer Law Center: Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: The Urgent Need for Comprehensive Reform (2016)
National Consumer Law Center: Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide for Litigation (2016)
National Consumer Law Center: Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide for Policy Reform (2016)
U.S. Office of Justice Programs: Resource Guide: Reforming the Assessment and Enforcement of Fines and Fees
Alexes Harris, The Society Pages: The Cruel Poverty of Monetary Sanctions (Mar. 4, 2014)
Martin et al., Shackled to Debt: Criminal Justice Financial Obligations & the Barriers to Re-Entry They Create (Jan. 2017),
Alexandra Bastien, PolicyLink: Ending the Debt Trap: Strategies to Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees (Mar. 2017)Law Review Articles
Laura I Appleman: Nickel and Dimed into Incarceration: Cash Register Justice in the Criminal System 57 B.C.L. Rev. 1483 (2016)
Margaret H. Lemos & Max Minzner, For-Profit Public Enforcement, 127 HARV. L. REV. 853 (2014)Commentary
Brennan Center for Justice: Criminal Justice Fees and Fines Don't Work
Brennan Center for Justice: Court Fees as Revenue? (July 30, 2008)
American Bar Association: Criminal Justice Debt Problems (Dec. 10, 2019)
TalkPoverty: Poverty, Incarceration, and Criminal Justice Debt (Dec. 2, 2014)
Spotlight on Poverty: Civil forfeiture hurts America's poor (Apr. 10, 2019)Miscellaneous