If an officer pulls you over on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, the most likely thing to seal your fate—at least temporarily—is a $2 roadside drug test kit. That might be okay if it weren't already known that these tests routinely return false positives even when the officer does everything right. Then, if you're lucky, your case will go to one of the crime labs in the country that can be trusted not to rubber stamp the test results—if there are any. Learn more about why you should fight a DUI charge based on drugs.
The field tests are inherently unreliable.
Defense attorneys across the nation have been trying to get the public's attention for some time about the unreliability of field tests that are used across the nation -- most of them highly unreliable.
For example, a test for cocaine that's routinely used by police in Texas contains thiocyanate. It turns blue when it reacts to the presence of cocaine. Unfortunately, it also turns blue when it reacts to about 80 other substances -- including acne medications and common cleaning products. Have you recently scrubbed out your car or bought cleaning supplies that you carted home? You'd better hope that a few granules of the cleaner didn't escape and leave a trail on your floor mats or you could quickly end up behind bars. In another case, a Florida man was strip-searched after some of the glaze from a Krispy Kreme doughnut showed up as meth in a roadside test.
Prosecutors push for early pleas based on field test results.
In many cases, prosecutors don't bother to wait on a lab that's certified to do more accurate testing. They will offer a defendant a plea deal at the earliest possible moment -- when the defendant may have had no time to recover from the trauma of being falsely arrested. The defendant, who may not have been given bail or who may not be able to afford it, is given a choice: plead guilty based on the field test results and accept a short term in jail or sit behind bars waiting on a trial and risk a long-term conviction. Defendants have no idea how faulty the tests are, so many give in and take the plea.
For example, a 2015 study in Las Vegas found that out of 5,000 drug arrests, 4,600 convictions were obtained—three-fourths of which on the same sort of faulty $2 lab tests used in Texas.
The drug labs may not be much better.
A recent scandal in Massachusetts has resulted in the overturning of around 23,000 convictions for drug use—all because of the ambitions of one lone chemist and a breakdown in the processes that are designed to keep those sorts of things from happening. A New Jersey chemist tainted about 7,800 tests in a similar way. The chemist was caught falsifying data and "dry labbing" results—which essentially means signing off on the field tests as if they had been checked for accuracy without ever doing the actual work. San Francisco had to drop close to 1,600 cases after a lab worker was found stealing and using drugs while performing testing on other samples.
Altogether, the evidence indicates that if you're suspected of a drug-based DUI, having an attorney represent you is the best thing you can do. Roadside tests can be challenged on their scientific basis and lab results can be questioned. For more information on how to fight a DUI charge based on drug use, talk to a criminal defense or DUI attorney today.