Prosecutors are preparing to retry an onslaught of old drug and gun cases as the state’s highest court continues to overturn verdicts in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.
Prosecutors are braced to retry an onslaught of old drug and gun cases as the state’s highest court continues to overturn verdicts in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.
At least eight Plymouth County cases have been overturned since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that it wasn’t enough to use lab analysis paperwork as evidence – the chemists and ballistics experts who did the tests have to testify, too.
A Friday ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court may open the door for even more of those cases to be appealed, said Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz.
In two rulings on Friday, the SJC said that even if the defense attorney didn’t formally object to the paperwork as evidence or questioned whether the items tested were drugs, the case can still be tossed out.
Prosecutors had argued that since the defense never questioned whether the items were drugs, the convictions should stand.
That ruling is important because it raises the possibility that even more convictions can be overturned.
“I think we are going to face some real challenges,” Cruz said.
Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating said the number of cases that may be overturned remains to be seen.
“It does open the door to other cases, but not as much those of recent vintage,” he said.
Keating said the problem could have been avoided years ago if the state had hired more chemists and other experts.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision last summer, ruled that using just laboratory analysis certificates as evidence violated a defendant’s right to confront witnesses, so chemists have to testify.
The court ruled that might make it “burdensome” for prosecutors, but that’s not enough to relax the law.
In a Brockton case overturned Friday, the court found that even though the defense didn’t object to the drug analysis certificates admitted as evidence – and even referred to the substances as “drugs” in his opening statement – a new trial is needed.
A similar argument was made in overturning a Springfield drug conviction involving a 2005 arrest.
Cruz said the decision can be far-reaching.
“Now, we find ourselves in a position of destroying legitimate drug convictions,” he said.
In the Brockton case, the SJC overturned the drug conviction of Charles Peterson, who had been convicted by a Brockton District Court jury of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and a drug offense in a school zone.
He had been arrested by Brockton detectives about 2:30 a.m. on May 13, 2004, after authorities responded to a fight at a gasoline station and then saw the suspect get into a car.
When police approached the car, the suspect refused to keep his hands visible and threw a plastic bag into the back seat.
At trial, prosecutors introduced paperwork detailing the analysis of the items found in the back seat. The analysis found the items were crack cocaine and marijuana.
Maureen Boyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.