United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
For USA, Plaintiff: John A. Wortmann, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse, Boston, MA.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Patti B. Saris, Chief
United States District Judge.
Defendant Justin Jackson is a federal prisoner seeking to vacate his convictions and set aside his guilty plea in light of the troubling scandal surrounding chemist Annie Dookhan and the William F. Hinton Drug Laboratory in Jamaica Plain. Jackson argues that his plea was invalid because the government failed to inform him of Dookhan's misconduct before he pleaded guilty. (Docket No. 30). Had he known about the scandal, Jackson insists that he would not have pleaded guilty, especially because Dookhan was involved in analyzing the drug samples in his case. The government opposes Jackson's motion and has requested summary dismissal. (Docket No. 68). For the following reasons, Jackson's Motion to Vacate Conviction and Withdraw Plea is DENIED. The government's request for summary dismissal is ALLOWED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Jackson seeks to set aside his convictions for two related drug trafficking offenses: one count of distributing cocaine within 1000 feet of a school in September 2010; and one count of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute in October 2010. The facts underlying these incidents are largely undisputed.
Jackson's first conviction stems from two bags of crack cocaine that he sold to an undercover police officer on September 18, 2010. While walking through the South End of Boston, the undercover made eye contact with Jackson and asked
him if " anyone was around." Jackson asked what the officer wanted, and the officer said he " needed two for thirty." Jackson then asked if the officer wanted " Flav," a common street term for crack cocaine. After the undercover said yes, Jackson said, " Yeah, I'll hook you up," and instructed the officer to meet him in a nearby alley.
The undercover went to the alley to wait for Jackson. When Jackson arrived, the undercover handed him $30 in recorded bills in exchange for two plastic bags containing white rock-like substances. As they walked out of the alley, the undercover asked Jackson for his name and telephone number. Jackson told the officer to " call me L" and gave the officer his phone number. The undercover then dialed the number in Jackson's presence, watched as Jackson's phone rang, and left the area. Shortly after the transaction was completed, the police field tested the contents of one of the bags, which tested positive for crack cocaine. Police later confirmed that the location of the deal was less than 1,000 feet from a school.
Jackson's second drug conviction relates to thirteen bags of crack cocaine recovered by police when he was arrested on October 26, 2010. After obtaining an arrest warrant, the police arrested Jackson at the same intersection in the South End where the drug buy with the undercover had taken place just one month earlier. During booking procedures, the police noticed a slit cut into Jackson's pants near the zipper area. When they frisked Jackson and touched his lower back, Jackson then tightened up. The police told Jackson that they believed he had drugs in his underwear and asked him to give them up. Jackson confessed that he had drugs and removed 13 bags with white rock-like substances from the back of his underwear and gave it to the police. The contents of the bags again field-tested positive for crack cocaine.
The evidence from these two incidents next went to the Hinton Drug Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, former workplace of chemist Annie Dookhan. Dookhan was assigned as the primary chemist for the two bags of suspected crack cocaine from the September 2010 drug buy. As the primary chemist on the case, Dookhan's job was to visually examine the substance, document the gross and net weights, and perform all presumptive tests, including reagent spot/color and microcrystalline tests. Dookhan was also responsible for keeping both bags of suspected crack cocaine locked in her personal lab cabinet. After completing the initial analysis, Dookhan prepared a small sample of the substance to be given to a confirmatory chemist, who in this case was Kate Corbett. Corbett's responsibility as confirmatory chemist was to run the sample through a gas chromatography-mass spectrometer (GC/MS) machine. After analysis was complete, the lab returned a certificate signed by Dookhan and Corbett stating that the substance in the bags contained cocaine.
Meanwhile, the thirteen bags from Jackson's arrest were assigned to chemist Della Saunders. As the primary chemist, Saunders tested two of the thirteen bags and found that they contained cocaine. She then sent a small sample to Dookhan, who served as the confirmatory chemist tasked with running the sample through the GC/MS machine. According to an affidavit signed by Saunders, Dookhan did not have access to the thirteen bags of suspected crack cocaine while she ...