The scandal at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Jamaica Plain Drug Lab involving chemist Annie Dookhan has resulted in court action in a large number of drug cases across Massachusetts and thousands of Massachusetts drug prosecutions possibly compromised. The 35 year old Franklin, Mass. resident worked as a chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory which was operated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. An investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the Massachusetts State Police resulted in Dookhan being charged with faking laboratory test results in a large number of Massachusetts drug cases involving illegal possession, possession with intent to distribute, distribution of controlled substances, and drug trafficking. The latest drug test result tampering charges against Dookhan came out of the Middlesex Superior Courts, where she was charged with three counts of obstruction of justice. She was arraigned on similar charges in Essex Superior Court in Salem, Massachusetts.
Judges have released hundreds of defendants from incarceration and stayed the execution of prison sentences in many drug cases across Massachusetts. Pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 22F, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has suspended the driver’s license of anyone convicted of violating the state’s drug laws. Those defendants who have had their sentences stayed or who have been released due to the Annie Dookhan scandal are attempting to get their driver’s licenses reinstated. They assume that because their sentences were stayed pursuant to court orders, and they were ordered to be released from custody, that they are entitled to have their driver’s licenses reinstated. However, neither the Registry Division of MassDOT nor the Board of Appeal on Liability Policies and Bonds of the Division of Insurance is vacating drug suspensions or reinstating driver’s licenses based on the Annie Dookhan incident.
Appeals seeking license reinstatements based solely on the Annie Dookhan incident are being denied because drug-related license suspensions are not imposed by any judge or court as part of the sentence upon conviction. Instead, these suspensions are imposed by operation of law as soon as a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty of a violation of the Massachusetts Controlled Substance Law, G.L. c. 94C. When this happens, regardless of any sentence imposed by the court, the defendant’s license is automatically suspended. When the Clerk-Magistrate’s Office of the District or Superior Court electronically notifies the Registry of Motor Vehicles of the drug conviction, the RMV will send the driver a letter informing him or her of the impending license suspension or revocation and the RMV will suspend or revoke the person’s license 10 days thereafter.