The wave of litigation following the revelation that a New Jersey State Police laboratory technician allegedly fabricated evidence in a marijuana possession case has prompted the NJ State Supreme Court to assign a special judge to handle all of the resulting drug conviction challenges. The special judge will be in charge of managing and coordinating the drug crime cases.
“Dry Labbing” Marijuana Evidence
Kamalkant Shah was employed as a lab technician with the New Jersey State Police in Little Falls, NJ. He came under suspicion in December 2015 when a co-worker allegedly saw him “dry labbing” a marijuana sample, which means that he was supposedly recording test results without actually conducting a test of the drug evidence.
Immediately after the allegations were made against Shah, the accused lab tech was suspended. He later retired from his job with the NJ State Police, which he held for roughly a decade. Despite retiring, Shah remains under criminal investigation for his alleged misconduct.
During his tenure with the NJ State Police, Shah served as the primary lab tech in 7,827 drug cases and reviewed approximately 2,600 lab reports that were prepared by other lab technicians. Shah directly handled evidence in drug cases that ended with convictions in numerous NJ counties, including Morris County, Essex County, Bergen County, and Passaic County. Shah’s lab results were crucial in many of these cases because the lab reports are used by county and municipal prosecutors to prove that a defendant actually possessed illicit narcotics.
Although authorities have yet to confirm a verifiable instance of misconduct by Shah (the December 2015 marijuana case remains in dispute), criminal defense lawyers for hundreds of other defendants have said that there is now a great deal of doubt about the evidence in the other cases as well.
As soon as authorities became aware of Shah’s alleged dry labbing, the NJ Attorney General’s Office got involved and sent letters to every NJ county prosecutor to ask that prosecutors notify the criminal defense attorneys for any defendants in drug cases on which Shah worked.
Additionally, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office directed officials to begin the arduous process of re-testing drug samples previously tested by Shah.
Appointment of a Special Judge to Handle Drug Conviction Challenges
Now the NJ Supreme Court has become involved and assigned Edward Jerejian as the “special master” who will oversee all drug conviction challenges involving cases on which Shah worked as a laboratory technician. Jerejian is currently a judge in Bergen County Superior Court in Hackensack, NJ.
The assignment of a special judge has been welcomed by criminal defense attorneys who believe that the unique step taken by the New Jersey Supreme Court gives some indication of just how serious Shah’s alleged misconduct was. Additionally, NJ prosecutors also embraced the decision because it should help to ease the burden on the court system as hundreds, and potentially thousands, of convicted felons in New Jersey seek to get their convictions overturned due to Shah’s misconduct.
To date, lawyers throughout New Jersey have filed motions to dismiss pending cases on which Shah worked, as well as motions to overturn convictions in drug cases where Shah’s lab work may have helped prosecutors to secure a conviction or a guilty plea.
As a special master, Jerejian will be limited to handling cases in which a criminal defendant was previously convicted of a drug crime on the basis of Shah’s lab work. This includes defendants who are currently serving prison sentences, defendants who already completed their terms of incarceration, and defendants who avoided prison and were instead placed on probation or entered into a diversionary program like Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI).
Jerejian will not be handling drug cases that are still pending. Those criminal cases will still be adjudicated in their counties of origin.
For further information about this case, read the North Jersey.com article, “Bergen County Judge Assigned All Cases Involving State Lab Tech Accused of Faking a Test.”