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Court rejects drug conviction appeal that cited crime lab errors

A state appeals court has refused to reverse the conviction of a Long Beach man who claimed prosecutors did not disclose evidence-testing errors at the Nassau police crime lab before he pleaded guilty to drug sale and possession.

The state Appellate Division in Brooklyn on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Christopher Huggins, 37, for cocaine sale and possession.

The appellate judges affirmed a decision by state Supreme Court Justice Frank Gulotta in Nassau denying Huggins' request to withdraw his guilty plea after he learned about past drug testing foul-ups at the crime lab. The court found that Huggins, by pleading guilty instead of going to trial, forfeited his right to seek a review of any alleged failures to disclose evidence that might have been favorable to him.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice called the decision "fair and proper."

"This repeat felony offender squandered a chance at drug treatment and is now serving the prison sentence he deserves," Rice said Thursday.

Huggins was originally sentenced to 18-months of drug treatment after his 2009 guilty plea. Upon completion, his conviction was to have been vacated. But on Dec. 21, 2010, Huggins tested positive for cocaine and was resentenced in 2012 to 3 years in prison.

Huggins' attorney, Mark Diamond of Manhattan, had no comment on the decision. In his brief, Diamond pointed to the lab's history of errors but didn't cite mistakes in Huggins' case.

Rice has said she did not learn about the lab's past errors until 2010, when an accrediting agency disclosed them. County Executive Edward Mangano and Rice closed the lab in February 2011 in the wake of disclosures about testing errors there.

Nassau is having felony drug evidence going back to 2007 retested at a private Pennsylvania lab in order to detect any past errors. But Huggins' evidence was not retested.

Huggins was arrested in Long Beach, and city police destroyed his evidence after he pleaded guilty. Long Beach policy is to destroy drug evidence after a guilty plea or after appeals have been exhausted.

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