Single justice of state high court to review drug lab scandal cases

A court hearing is set for Wednesday that could end with the full state Supreme Judicial Court taking up complex constitutional questions raised by the state drug lab scandal that has jeopardized tens of thousands drug convictions.

Attorneys for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency; the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts; and Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett are to appear before a single justice of the court, Margot Botsford.

Botsford could rule on three cases that are before her or send one, two, or all of them up to the full court.

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Defense attorneys are hoping that Botsford will release their clients from prison while litigation moves forward about the alleged unreliability of drug testing done by state chemist Annie Dookhan.

Both defense lawyers and prosecutors have raised multiple legal questions they say the high court must address, including whether retired judges have the power to free convicted drug dealers and whether the court system could save tax dollars by releasing everyone involved in a case in which evidence was tested at Dookhan’s lab.

The drug lab scandal exploded into public view last year when authorities discovered former state chemist Annie Dookhan had allegedly falsified lab results while working at the now-closed Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain

More problems with lab management have since been disclosed. The Patrick administration has estimated Dookhan’s alleged misdeeds affected 34,000 cases while public defenders and the ACLU say as many as 190,000 cases were.

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