New trial allowed for prosecutor’s failure to disclose misconduct of crime lab chemist

In Commonwealth v. Gaston, the Court of Appeals  affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial in regard to firearms and ammunition charges, but reversed the denial of the motion in regard to a charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The reversal was based on two grounds: (1) newly discovered evidence, acquired by the defendant after his trial, revealed the flagrant misconduct of state laboratory chemist Annie Dookhan (one of the signers of the defendant’s drug certificate); and (2) the prosecution failed, prior to the trial, to disclose to the defense the problems at the laboratory involving Dookhan. The Court agreed with the defendant’s argument that his inability to gain access to evidence of Dookhan’s pervasive and egregious misconduct until after his trial and the prosecutor’s failure to disclose the misconduct prevented the defendant from challenging Dookhan’s role as the confirmatory chemist. The Court based its ruling on the reasoning in Commonwealth v. Scott, 467 Mass. 336 (2014).  Focussing on the prejudice or materiality portion of the defendant’s dual claims, the Court asserted,  “In either a common-law claim of newly discovered evidence or a constitutional claim of prosecutorial nondisclosure, the defendant must demonstrate essentially the fulfillment of the same requirement, namely, that there is a ‘substantial risk that the jury would have reached a different conclusion had the evidence been admitted at trial,’” The judge need not be convinced that the jury’s verdict would have been different but rather that the evidence would have been a “real factor” in the jury’s deliberations.

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