Portable drug-testing kits are used by thousands of police officers each day in California and around the country because they are inexpensive and relatively easy to use. These kits have been used by law enforcement agencies for decades despite overwhelming evidence indicating that they are highly unreliable. They are essentially plastic bags containing chemicals that change color when exposed to illegal drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. The problem is that the chemicals also change color when they come into contact with benign substances like sugar and baking powder.
The majority of these cases do not go to trial
These shortcomings are well known, and they are the reason why courts around the country have refused to allow evidence obtained during field drug tests in narcotics trials unless the substances involved have undergone more thorough testing in a crime laboratory. While the firm stance taken by judges may be laudable, it rarely becomes a factor in cases involving drug charges because the vast majority of them are settled with plea agreements long before a trial is held.
This is what happened to five people in Nevada who pleaded guilty to drug possession between 2011 and 2013 because field tests identified benign substances as cocaine. Their convictions were overturned in 2017. One of them was sent to prison for eight months after pleading guilty. In Texas and Oregon, prosecutors have overturned hundreds of narcotics convictions because the forensic evidence supporting them turned out to be wrong.
Understanding the available options before making critical decisions
The individuals who recently had their drug convictions overturned may not have pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit if they knew that the results provided by portable drug-testing kits could not be used against them in court. This highlights how crucial it is for individuals facing serious criminal drug charges and other offenses to obtain qualified legal counsel before making decisions that could affect their lives for years to come.