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Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Chemists and the Cover-Up: New at Reason

By Reason Staff - February 09, 2019 at 09:10AM

"Tried to resist using @ work, but ended up failing," the forensic chemist scribbled on a diary worksheet she kept as part of her substance abuse therapy. "Going to use phentermine," she wrote on another, "but when I went to take it, I saw how little (v. little) there is left = ended up not using."

The chemist, Sonja Farak, worked at the state drug lab in Amherst, Massachusetts, for more than eight years. Her notes record on-the-job drug use ranging from small nips of the lab's baseline standard stock of the stimulant phentermine to stealing crack not only from her own samples but from colleagues' as well. On another worksheet chronicling her struggle not to use, she described 12 of the next 13 samples assigned to her for testing as "urge-ful."

State police took these worksheets from Farak's car in January 2013, the same day they arrested her for tampering with evidence and for cocaine possession. The lead prosecutor on Farak's case knew about the diaries, as did supervisors at the state attorney general's office. And yet, despite explicit requests for this kind of evidence, state prosecutors withheld Farak's handwritten notes about her drug use, theft, and evidence tampering from defense attorneys and a judge for more than a year.

Farak's reports were central to thousands of cases, and the fact that she ran analyses while high and regularly dipped into "urge-ful" samples casts doubt on thousands of convictions. But without access to evidence showing how long Farak had been doing this, defendants with constitutional grounds for challenging their incarceration were held for months and even years longer than necessary, writes Shawn Musgrave.

View this article.


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