If you're accused of a drug crime, and the evidence against you was handled by the State Drug Lab in JP, it might not mean "get-out-of-jail free." But for defendants it sometimes means "get-out-of-jail for lower bail."
On Thursday, a convicted rapist who faces new drug charges was due back in court. His bail had been lowered because chemist Annie Dookhan — accused of tainting evidence in thousands of cases — had tested evidence against him. The man, 52-year-old Marcus Pixley, skipped court and is on the lam, a fugitive from justice.
Pixley, who was held on $5,000 bail in connection to a South End drug possession arrest, had his bail reduced to $1,000, which he posted. A judge ordered the reduction because samples in the case were tested at a Jamaica Plain drug lab where Dookhan has admitted to falsifying results and other infractions.
It's the kind of episode that shows what prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers and defendants are all puzzling over. And it can leave citizens worried their streets are becoming less safe as career criminals — like Pixley — get their bail lowered or get released altogether.
But how to handle what could be 34,000 cases in which Dookhan's lab work isn't trustworthy?
"A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work when every case and every defendant is different," said Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley in a statement Thursday. "We have to look at the non-drug offenses on the docket, we have to look at the defendant’s record and whether he has prior defaults, and we have to look at the likelihood he’ll be convicted and serve time."
Conley said his office has agreed to more than a dozen bail reductions and stays of sentences in the past month.
"We’re judicious in our recommendations to the court," Conley said. "But when a defendant has charges unaffected by the drug lab disaster, as [Pixley] did, we’re going to take those into account and argue against his release."
The DA did say that the people standing to gain the most out of what he calls the "lab disaster" aren't street-level pushers.
"One thing has become very clear: the defendants who stand to benefit most from the DPH lab disaster aren’t low-level, non-violent drug users," Conley said. "They’re moving large quantities of drugs, they’ve got long records, or they’re violent offenders."
One Jamaica Plain Patch reader took issue with headlines that assume the fallout is landing on convicted drug dealers.
In introducing a Sept. 28 Facebook post, JP Patch editor Chris Helms wrote: "The chemist whose alleged actions may set thousands of convicted drug dealers free may simply have wanted to be viewed as an outstanding worker."
The reader responded: "I think you meant to say, 'the chemist whose alleged actions may have put thousands of innocent people in prison...'"
That tension is being played out nearly every day in Bay State courts.
On Thursday afternoon, for example, another defendant sought to be released. Cocaine in the evidence against Danny Martinez-Vasquez, 43, had been tested by Dookhan, the suspect chemist. Superior Court Judge Carol Ball reduced his bail from $40,000 to $25,000, prosecutors said. She is the same judge who issued the warrant for Pixley, according to the DA's office.
And there's much more to come. On Friday, another judge will hear from 19 convicts who are behind bars in part because of evidence handled by Dookhan, according to the Herald.
And week after next, Suffolk County courts begin special sessions designed to deal with the tidal wave of possibly-tainted drug cases.