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Being Annie Dookhan'ed on drug charges doesn't mean reversal of related armed-robbery charges, court rules

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the armed-robbery conviction of a man who pleaded guilty to a 2011 gunpoint holdup in Mattapan, even though the drug convictions that stemmed from the same arrest had earlier been overturned because the drugs had gone through the tainted hands of state chemist Annie Dookhan.

Christopher Henry had agreed to a plea deal that included guilty pleas to both armed-robbery and cocaine-distribution charges and a 3-year sentence.

After the Supreme Judicial Court nullified one of the cocaine charges because of the Dookhan scandal and the Suffolk County District Attorney's office decided to drop the other for the same reason, Henry appealed the remainder of his conviction on the armed-robbery charges. He argued that because he had agreed to a package plea deal only because Dookhan had certified the white substance police found was cocaine and that if that part of his conviction was nullfied, the rest of it should be as well due to the "egregious government misconduct" in his case.

In its ruling today, the appeals court agreed that Dookhan's behavior, which ultimately resulted in more than 21,000 overturned drug convictions, was pretty darn egregious. But, the court continued, that really had nothing to do with Henry's guilty plea on the armed-robbery charges - in which police said he held a gun to a man's head outside of Henry's apartment on Walk Hill Street on the evening of March 24, 2011, so that Henry and another man could take the victim's phone, wallet and a ring. Henry was already classified as an armed career criminal at the time of the robbery.

The court said that, as it had decided in a 2019 case, a withdrawal of a guilty plea because of Dookhan's behavior is only valid if the charges in question were drug related, and that holding a gun to a man's head is not. And, again, while recognizing Dookhan's "egregious" actions, the court continued that there was, in fact, no way to tell for sure that Dookhan really did tamper with the tests or results on the samples from Henry's arrest.

We therefore conclude, in the absence of any evidence that egregious government misconduct occurred in relation to the defendant's robbery, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and possessing a firearm without a license charges, that the defendant has not met this burden [of proving Dookhan's misconduct affected his gun charges].

The court also rejected arguments by Henry's lawyer that had Henry known of Dookhan's crimes, he would never have agreed to the plea deal. The court, which said that were it to allow a new trial, Henry could be facing a sentence of up to life on the armed-robbery charges, said the lawyer presented no evidence about Henry's state of mind, let alone evidence that he would have rather risked a lengthy sentence on the armed-robbery charges at trial than the package deal he took.

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"Nice try, but, no."

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