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The trouble with field drug tests

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2024 | Drug Crimes

If the police see a vehicle operating erratically in California, they might pull the driver over. A sobriety check could follow, and the driver may face a subsequent arrest. Results from roadside field tests for drugs may support the validity of the arrest and serve as evidence in court. However, the tests could have serious problems, such as false positives leading to wrongful arrests.

Roadside drug test troubles

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice released a study with alarming results. The study suggests that roughly 30,000 people face arrests annually because of unreliable roadside drug field tests. One factor contributing to the unreliability is that compounds found in illegal drugs may be present in legal substances. So, someone who ingests a lawful substance might turn up positive when given a field drug test.

Unfortunately, many defendants plea bargain the subsequent charges based on unreliable drug test results. Essentially, these persons face criminal penalties for crimes they did not commit.

Addressing drug charges

Although a field sobriety test may turn up positive, leading to drug charges, a second drug test sent to a laboratory may reveal that there were no drugs in the system. Hence, the results from the field drug test may not carry weight as evidence in court. Charges might face dismissal if the new test results show negative results.

Other issues could undermine a prosecutor’s case, such as the police lacking probable cause to make an arrest. A lack of probable cause might make all evidence seized after the stop inadmissible. Even if other evidence is admissible, the defendant may have the option to plea bargain to lesser charges.