A Massachusetts appellate court delivered yet another opinion related to disgraced Massachusetts chemist Annie Dookhan’s work in a case that resulted in the imposition of a lengthy prison sentence. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Williams.
In 2010, the police reported to the defendant’s girlfriend’s home to investigate a disturbance. The defendant was present when the police arrived and was in possession of a loaded gun and ammunition. The defendant had been around the block a few times, having previously been convicted of armed masked robbery, and possession with intent to distribute drugs (more than once). Therefore, in addition to the new gun charge, he was indicted for being an armed career criminal. The armed career criminal statute provides for significant mandatory minimum prison sentences for defendants with certain types of prior convictions.
While released on bail, the defendant was living with relatives when the police executed a search warrant at his home. The police discovered large amounts of drugs along with all kinds of paraphernalia associated with a drug distribution scheme. The defendant was indicted a second time, charged with multiple counts of possession of drugs with intent to distribute (subsequent offense) and violations of the school zone statute.
The defendant pled out both of his new cases in January of 2012. The prosecutor agreed to reduce the armed career criminal statute from a level 3 offense (3 prior convictions) to a level 2 offense (2 prior convictions). The practical consequence of the prosecutor’s reduction was that the mandatory minimum was reduced from 15 to 10 years in state prison. The prosecutor recommended, and the judge imposed, a 10-12 year state prison sentence on the gun charges with a concurrent 7 and a half year prison sentence to be served on the drug case.
After the defendant learned about Annie Dookhan’s corrupt handling of drug samples, and realizing Dookhan had been the chemist who analyzed the drugs in his new case and his two older cases (which formed the basis for his indictment as an armed career criminal), he filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas in both his new drug case and his gun case. He also filed motions to withdraw his guilty pleas in his two prior drug cases. The defendant won one of the two motions to withdraw his guilty pleas related to his prior drug convictions, and he argued, therefore, that with only two prior convictions he really hadn’t received any consideration in pleading out his superior court case (because the prosecutor reduced the charge to a level 2 offense which, as it turns out, was all she would have been able to prove anyway).
A superior court judge who considered the defendant’s motion to withdraw his pleas in the two cases involving the armed career criminal statute denied the motion because the requests to withdraw the guilty pleas on the prior drug convictions had not been decided yet. The Appeals Court conceded that the defendant’s decision to plead guilty in the new cases was likely driven by the Commonwealth’s representation that it could have proven three predicate offenses for the armed career criminal statute. Since one of those predicates no longer exists, the defendant is likely entitled to withdraw his pleas on the superior court cases. However, the Appeals Court ruled the defendant first must return to the trial court and move to withdraw his guilty pleas in front of the plea judge.
This case perfectly illustrates the disaster created by Annie Dookhan. Years after her crimes, the judicial system is still trying to sort out the relief owed to criminal defendants who were victims of her crimes.