Massachusetts agrees to settlement for thousands wrongly convicted of drug offenses – Boston News, Weather, Sports

(CNN) — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has agreed to a settlement that would pay back legal fees, probation and fines for tens of thousands of people wrongly convicted of drug charges, according to court documents.

It is estimated that approximately $14 million will go to approximately 31,000 people whose criminal convictions have been vacated. The amounts are intended to reimburse incurred fees, including: victim witness fees, probation fees, GPS tracking, redress, court costs, fines, criminal drug analysis fees, DNA collection fees, probation fees, and driver’s license reinstatement fees, according to a court records.

The settlement has yet to be approved by a judge.

“Shifting costs to ‘users’ of the criminal justice system creates extraordinary hardships for defendants and their families,” said Luke Ryan, one of several attorneys representing those whose convictions have been vacated, in a press release.

“In addition to raising sometimes insurmountable barriers to re-entry, legal financial obligations of probation and parole officers require them to devote significant time to collections officer work that could otherwise be devoted to rehabilitation and public safety,” Ryan said.

The settlement agreement was filed Thursday and comes after a state court vacated the wrongful substance abuse convictions of more than 30,000 people whose cases were linked to two former state laboratory chemists who worked to test drug samples submitted by law enforcement, but accused of tampering and convicted with drug evidence.

Former state chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty in 2013 to 27 charges including perjury, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to three to five years in prison. She was released on parole in April 2016. Former chemist Sonja Farak has been convicted of tampering with drug evidence at a state crime lab in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was released from prison in 2015.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement to CNN that Dookhan and Farak’s crimes undermined the integrity of the justice system and impacted thousands of lives.

“We recognized from the outset that defendants with vacated convictions should receive a refund, and are pleased that we worked together to achieve a fair and efficient resolution for all involved,” Healey said in the statement.

The settlement could return anywhere from $150 to several thousand dollars to thousands of people who were impacted, Ryan said.

The estimated $14 million in recovered fees and fines does not compensate thousands for being wrongly convicted, Massachusetts ACLU legal director Matthew Segal said.

“This isn’t about being compensated for a period of service you shouldn’t have served. This is about giving people back their own money that was wrongfully taken from them in connection with their convictions,” Segal said. “So every penny that’s part of this settlement reminds us of how we’re punishing people as part of the war on drugs.”

Those receiving money under the Settlement can appeal their refund amount, and a Settlement Administrator will set up a website and call center to answer questions and arrange distribution in accordance with the agreement.

The CNN Wire
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Nate Jones

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