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The highest court in Massachusetts is being asked to step in to help manage a state drug lab scandal that threatens to derail thousands of criminal cases.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to find that all defendants whose cases were handled by former state chemist Annie Dookhan have a presumptive right to have their sentences put on hold while motions for new trials are pending. One of the justices will decide whether to refer the ACLU request on to the full court.

Dookhan, 35, has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice and other charges for allegedly faking test results and tampering with evidence at the now-closed Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston.

The Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear two cases next month in which Essex County prosecutors are asking the court to clarify whether judges or special magistrates appointed to handle Dookhan cases have the right to put a defendant's sentence on hold and release him from jail before his motion for a new trial is decided.

Prosecutors from District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett's office argue that normally, judges are required to decide whether a defendant is entitled to a new trial before ruling on a request to put a sentence on hold and to release a defendant while awaiting the new trial.


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