BBA Responds to SJC Decision in Committee for Public Counsel Services vs. Attorney GeneralPress Release
In its decision in Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General (CPCS v. AG), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today dismissed thousands of drug cases found to have been tainted by misconduct by a state chemist at the Amherst Drug Lab and, later, prosecutorial misconduct by two former assistant attorneys general.
The Boston Bar Association (BBA) applauds the SJC’s ruling and the court’s recognition that the “egregious, deliberate, and intentional” governmental misconduct required it to implement that exceptional remedy to correct the injustices that arose from the scandal.
In April, the BBA submitted an amicus brief in CPCS v. AG that argued in favor of system-wide measures to prevent the types of misconduct that occurred in the Amherst and Hinton drug lab scandals. As the brief stated, “Instances of repeated, intentional government misconduct undermine the integrity of the entire system of justice and destroy confidence and trust in its operations.”
This brief was an extension of our long history on these issues, including our 2009 Getting It Right report on wrongful convictions—which called for clearer policies and stronger training on exculpatory evidence—our 2014 task force report on the drug labs, and our 2016 amicus brief in Bridgeman v. District Attorney. That case resulted in more than 21,000 vacated drug convictions, and we are pleased that the Court has again taken the steps necessary to protect the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system.
“When the due process rights of the accused are compromised from the outset of his or her criminal proceedings, there can be no hope of achieving justice,” BBA President Jon Albano, a partner at Morgan Lewis said. “Our amicus briefs argued for the fairest possible resolution of cases impacted by back-to-back state drug lab scandals, and for a better way forward. We are pleased to see those principles reflected in the SJC’s decision.”
The BBA’s brief, drafted by BBA amicus committee co-chair David Siegel, a professor at New England Law | Boston, and former co-chair Elizabeth Ritvo, of counsel at Brown Rudnick, argued in favor of a standing order making it mandatory for any prosecutor with knowledge of misconduct to report it to the supervisory prosecutor and to the court. It also supported the standing orders offered by the petitioners, including an order on the disclosure obligations resulting from Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), which held that failure to turn over evidence that might exonerate the defendant was a violation of due process.
Though the court declined to issue a standing order or other such prophylactic measures, recognizing the need for systemic reform to prevent prosecutorial misconduct, it asked its Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure to propose amendments to Rule 14 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure. The decision calls for a “Brady checklist” that would create a thorough, but non-exhaustive, framework of the most likely forms of exculpatory information. We look forward to reviewing and commenting on the final rules.
“Above all we are pleased with the SJC’s decision to dismiss the convictions of those harmed by the misconduct, and we are encouraged that the court has taken the opportunity to make clear, as our brief urged, that ‘a prosecutor’s core duty is to administer justice fairly,’” Siegel said.
“Our brief argued for systemic reforms to prevent something like the Amherst and Hinton drug lab scandals from happening again, and I am hopeful this decision has brought us a step closer to ensuring fairer proceedings for defendants in Massachusetts,” Ritvo said.