Just last month, a judge ruled in the Annie Dookin forensics lab scandal that rocked Massachusetts’ criminal justice system that prosecutors had to decide which cases to retry. The remaining cases would then be dismissed and convictions overturned. Could the cost of these wrongful convictions bankrupt the state?
By C J Oakes
The scandal involving Annie Dookin has resulted in a record mass-exoneration of over 21,578 drug cases. But that is not all. In an unrelated case involving another forensic examiner in the western part of the state, Sonja Farak admitted to using the drugs she was to test. Making the matter worse, it appears that prosecutors knew of the abuse and helped cover it up.
What is the Cost of Wrongful Convictions in Massachusetts?
Resulting from the work done by the Innocence Project, many states have passed laws which pay victims of wrongful convictions. Massachusetts passed such a law in 2004. The law allows for payments up to $500,000 if wrongfully convicted of a felony. So, the 21,578 wrongful convictions just admitted by state prosecutors have the potential of costing the state up to $10,789,000,000 (yes, that is billions with a B). But that is not all.
The case involving Annie Dookin covered a span of ONLY five years. Sonja Farak was smoking crack, taking uppers, LSD, ecstasy, and more both on the job and at home courtesy of Massachusetts law enforcement for eight to nine years. It can be safely assumed that all cases handled during that time will be overturned. How many cases will that be?
We cannot say because the courts have yet to release that information related to Farak, but if we assume that Dookin handled 24,000 cases in five years, we can assume Farak handled approximately the same number. Thus, Dookin handled 4,800 cases per year. Multiply that figure by, oh, let’s be conservative and say 8 years for Farak. This will amount to 38,400 cases.
Now, the number of cases handled by Dookin that prosecutors felt merited retrial came to 1.5% of the total. Let us assume the same with Farak.
This means that 38,400 X 98.5% = 37,824 cases we can expect to be overturned in the Farak scandal. Assuming up to $500,000 per case and the state is potentially looking at another $18,912,000,000 in payouts to exonerated citizens.
Adding these figures together, we arrive at $29,701,000,000. Per Google, the GDP of Massachusetts is $351.5 billion (351,500,000,000). Therefore, these two cases of wrongful convictions will not bankrupt the state because they only amount to 8.5% of the GDP.
ONLY 8.5% of Massachusetts GDP or Less to Cover Cost of Wrongful Convictions
Of course, it should be noted that not all of the cases overturned would have been felonies and not all will result in the maximum payout. Then too, it should be noted that there are other costs associated with civil trials and the exonerations not accounted for in these figures. The cost to the state will likely be way higher. But, let us assume for a moment that this is the exact figure. What does it mean?
First, it means that the state will not be bankrupted by the wrongful convictions. That is good news. Now the bad news.
To bring it into better focus, the almost $30 billion pricetag will amount to each citizen of the state of Massachusetts paying about $4,451 each. Just because two people screwed up royally and elected officials hushed it up.
Shucks. That is a small price to pay to ensure the drug war keeps finding guilty parties so go on Massachusetts, keep convicting wrongfully. You can afford it.