World
Crime Lab Scandal Forces Prosecutors to Disavow Thousands of Drug Convictions

During her career as a Massachusetts lab chemist, Annie Dookhan has admitted to making up drug test results and tampering with samples, in the process helping send scores of people to prison. Her work may have touched some 24,000 cases.

 

On April 18, nearly five years after Dookhan's confession, prosecutors submitted lists of about 21,587 tainted cases with flawed convictions that they have agreed to overturn. The state's highest court must still formally dismiss the convictions.

 

Once that happens, many of the cleared defendants will be freed from the collateral consequences that can result from drug convictions, including loss of access to government benefits, public housing, driver's licenses and federal financial aid for college. Convicted green card holders can also become eligible for deportation, and employers might deny someone a job due to a drug conviction on their record.

 

"The bad news is, it took a lot of time and litigation to get to this point. But the good news is, the courts are working really hard to make sure this relief is meaningful," said Matthew Segal, the legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, who helped represent some of the Dookhan defendants.

 

The state's public defender agency has opened a telephone hotline (888-999-2881) to field questions that defendants may have about their convictions and whether they were dismissed. Prosecutors have until mid-May to send notice to those whose convictions were not overturned — in about 320 cases — so that those defendants can decide whether to request a new trial. Those cases involve what prosecutors considered to be the most serious offenders, and prosecutors believe that they have enough clean evidence to defend the original convictions.

 

The earliest Dookhan cases go back to 2003, which means that some individuals have been living with a flawed drug conviction for nearly a decade and a half. Lawyers for defendants, prosecutors and the state's top court are also grappling with the question of how to find and contact defendants who may have been deported from the U.S. due to their now-overturned convictions, Segal said.

 

As a result, the effects of having an illegitimate drug conviction wiped away may not be immediately felt by many defendants.

 

"The longer that these tainted convictions remained on the books, the more power they've had and the more sway they've had over people's lives," said Luke Ryan, a criminal defense lawyer who has been following the Dookhan fallout and is also representing clients harmed by another Massachusetts drug lab scandal. "They've made choices around where they live, whether they can apply for public housing. They've foregone educational opportunities because they didn't think they would be able to take advantage of them, they haven't pursued job opportunities that maybe they could have gotten."

 

The prosecutors' move to dismiss thousands of cases follows a January decision from Massachusetts' highest court, which required them to decide which Dookhan convictions they would maintain and which ones they would dismiss. For years, prosecutors opposed any wholesale review of Dookhan-involved cases and at one point argued that they had no duty to send notice to convicted defendants of the possibly tainted evidence.

 

In September, prosecutors finally mailed out thousands of notices, but the letters lacked key information and were accompanied by an inadequate Spanish translation, according to the court. As of November, fewer than 2,000 Dookhan defendants had sought or gained relief from their convictions.

 

The most affected cases — nearly 8,000 — came from Suffolk County, which includes Boston. All of the convictions were based on "reliable, admissible evidence" in addition to Dookhan's tainted test results, and many of the defendants have criminal records that extend beyond the Dookhan cases, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.

 

The county's mass dismissal "represents a good faith effort to meet the high court's goal of winnowing the number of Dookhan defendants down to a manageable number," the statement said.

 

The hundreds of defendants whose Dookhan convictions were not overturned could still decide to challenge them by requesting a new trial. If they cannot afford their own lawyer, the state public defender agency is required to provide them one for free.

 

"It will be a challenge. But it's certainly a whole lot more manageable than the prospect of 20,000," said Nancy Caplan, the attorney leading the agency's Dookhan response. "It's within the realm of possibility."

 

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H-1B visas: Nasscom says no impact as Assocham asserts lay-offs ahead
Even as Indian IT industry's representative body Nasscom on Wednesday said there will be no impact of the changed norms for H-1B visas under President Donald Trumps ‘Buy American, Hire American campaign, industries' lobby Assocham says IT companies are headed for disruption.
 
"Nothing is being proposed that would impact or change the FY 2018 H-1B lottery (system) that is underway. No new changes are being implemented immediately," said the apex National Association of Software Services and Companies (Nasscom) in a statement here.
 
In contrast, Assocahm said that "nearly 86 per cent of the H-1B visas issued for workers in the computer space go to Indians and this figure is now sure to be scaled down to about 60 per cent or even less."
 
Asserting that the proposed changes were forward-looking and non-specific, Nasscom said the campaign to discredit the IT sector was driven by persistent myths that H-1B visa holders were "cheap labour" and "displace American workers", which was not accurate.
 
"The President's Tuesday order directs the federal bureaucracy to enforce visa law vigorously and study new ways to reform and restrict the H-1B system," reiterated Nasscom.
 
After signing the order, Trump asked his Secretary of State, Attorney General, Labor Secretary and Homeland Secretary to propose new rules and issue new guidance to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance to protect the interests of the US workers.
 
President Trump also asked his top officials to suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas were awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries.
 
Because of the changes, remittances from the US are expected to decline, hurting the balance of payments, Assocham paper said.
 
World bank data showed the US was the second largest source of remittance for India in 2015, behind Saudi Arabia, with about $10.96 billion -- nearly 16 percent of the total -- being sent to India. Assocham expects the inflow to decline by 8-10 per cent. 
 
"Indian firms support efforts to root out any abuse occurring in the H-1B system, as our IT industry is one of the most regulated sectors in the economy, and companies abide by applicable laws and regulations," claimed Nasscom.
 
Asserting that the H-1B visa system was meant to meet the acute shortage of highly-skilled domestic talent in the US, it said additional curbs on the H-1B or L-1 visas would hurt thousands of US businesses and their efforts to be competitive by hindering access to needed talent.
 
"We have no problem with measures to protect American workers, but they should be made applicable to all firms applying for short-term skilled visas, including H-1B," it reiterated.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Trump takes first step towards H-1B visa reform
Washington, US President Donald Trump, hammering his "America First" campaign theme, signed an executive order that he said would favour American companies for federal contracts and tighten the H-1B visa programme for foreign technical workers.
 
The move is a deterrent to Indian IT firms which send software engineers to the US on H-1B visas.
 
Trump signed the "Buy America, Hire America" order on Tuesday night during a visit to a tool factory in the US state of Wisconsin, reported CNN.
 
The order tasked four department heads of State, Justice, Homeland Security and Labour to propose reforms in order to ensure H-1B visas are given to the "most-skilled or highest paid" petitioners. 
 
Additionally, it asked them to propose new rules and guidance for preventing fraud and abuse of work visas.
 
Trump made it clear that he doesn't agree with fact that H-1Bs are currently doled out under a lottery system.
 
"Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery, and that's wrong. Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans," the US President asserted.
 
There's an annual quota of 85,000 new H-1B visas (with 20,000 reserved for Master's degree holders). 
 
Applications opened on April 3 and closed five days later. It was the fifth consecutive year that the cap was met within five days. This year, 199,000 applications were received, CNN reported.
 
"With this action we are sending a powerful signal to the world that were going to defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally put America first," the US President said.
 
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the executive order "will make significant progress towards Buy American and Hire American, the cornerstone of Trump's vision for a government that answers to the American workers who built this country".
 
The new directive also attracted scepticism from Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, who said Trump's policies put profits over people. He seems to do what the CEOs want, not what the workers want. 
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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