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SJC Orders Compromise In Drug Cases Tainted By Lab Scandal

BOSTON (CBS/AP) — The highest court in Massachusetts has rejected a proposal for the mass dismissal of more than 24,000 drug convictions because of misconduct by a former state drug lab chemist.

Read: Complete SJC Ruling

The Supreme Judicial Court did, however, order prosecutors to throw out cases clearly tainted by the scandal.

Since 2012, courts have been struggling to deal with the fallout from the misconduct of Annie Dookhan, who tampered with evidence and falsified drug tests in criminal cases.

Many defendants are still waiting to challenge their convictions.

The court Wednesday declined to order the wholesale dismissal of cases sought by public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union. The court also refused to adopt a recommendation from prosecutors that it take no new action.

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley released a statement on the ruling.

Today's SJC decision is consistent with an uninterrupted series of rulings that prosecutors are best situated to assess the viability of their cases. Since the Scott decision in 2013, the high court has rejected mass dismissal as a remedy to Annie Dookhan's misconduct, and it has done so once again. In the weeks to come, we'll consider the quality of the evidence, the availability of our witnesses, and the relative seriousness of each specific case in terms of public safety, public health, and public policy. But that approach is not a new one: it's our practice every day, in every case, in every courthouse in Suffolk County.

The court ordered a three-phase approach to dealing with remaining cases.

Prosecutors are ordered to dismiss all cases they would not feel comfortable retrying, send a notice to all other defendants that their cases may have been compromised by Dookhan's actions, and assign a public defender to low income defendants so the lawyer can decide if the convictions should be challenged.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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