Unreliable drug tests could lead to arrests and convictions


Every year, police arrest over 1.2 million Americans and charge them with possession of illegal drugs. Often, they use field tests to check for things like crack cocaine. These tests can lead to a conviction when used as evidence. For example, there is one test that uses cobalt thiocyanate, a chemical that changes in color — turning blue — if it comes in contact with cocaine.

However, some have argued that these tests are not reliable. After all, they’re pretty much the same in 2016 as the tests that were used in 1973 — more than four decades ago. The tests only cost about two dollars. This is far from the advanced scientific methods people may assume would be used when determining if a person will get felony charges that could change the course of his or her life.

The reasons the tests are unreliable vary. For one thing, cobalt thiocyanate doesn’t only turn blue if it contacts cocaine. A number of normal cleaning products and acne medications also make it turn blue, as do over 80 other additional compounds. While it does turn blue for cocaine, the color shift alone doesn’t seem to indicate that the substance definitely was cocaine.

Another test uses three different tubes. Officers can then break these tubes in a certain order, which can rule out positives for things other than the drug officers believe they’re dealing with. This does offer a higher level of reliability in some ways, but an officer who makes a mistake and breaks those tubes in anything but the perfect order could get a false positive.

Finally, there can be issues with heat, cold, lighting, and a few other factors. All of these can influence the $2 test results.

Have you been charged in Florida based on a faulty test? If you believe that is the case, you need to know what legal options you have.

Source: ProPublica, "Busted," Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders, July 07, 2016

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