Don’t let police field tests that meet the lowest standards of reliability end up with you in jail waiting to be prosecuted says Dallas drug lawyer John Helms.
A man in Florida recently spent 90 days in jail for possession of suspected cocaine, which lab tests later confirmed was not cocaine reports Dallas drug lawyer John Helms. The man was a construction worker, and he had white powder on the seat and floorboard of his car when police stopped him. Presumably, it was drywall dust, but the police field tested it, and the test was positive for cocaine. It took three months for lab tests to clear him.
The field test that the police used is called “NarcoPouch.” It is made by a company called Safariland from Ontario, California. It is used by police departments across the country even though its reliability is highly questionable. In fact, the company that makes it cautions that it should not be used to determine whether someone should be prosecuted or convicted.
If it is not reliable enough for a prosecution decision, why is it used at all? The reason is that a positive test result can be enough to provide “probable cause” to arrest someone. “Probable cause” is the standard the police need to arrest someone, but it is a very low standard. It is even lower than “more likely than not”—in other words, it does not even mean 51% likely.
If you are arrested based on a field test that comes back positive for an illegal drug, what should you do? First, tell your drug possession defense lawyer as soon as possible. Especially if it is early in the case, do not assume that the lawyer knows. It may be too early in the case for the lawyer to be entitled to get police reports that would show what happened during the arrest.
Second, if there is any doubt about whether the substance tested was illegal, encourage the lawyer to push for a lab test as soon as possible. Many police departments do not normally do lab tests unless the case is about to go to trial. This is because most police departments do not have their own lab, and they send suspected drugs to an outside lab. This costs money, which they would rather not have to spend if the case is not going to trial.
I know a lot about the importance of lab testing. Several years ago, my cocounsel and I tried two of the “fake drugs” criminal trials in Dallas. We represented a Dallas Police officer who was accused of participating in a scheme with confidential police informants to have people arrested for distributing “fake drugs.” The informants were paid by the Dallas Police Department for helping the police make drug busts. They got a certain amount of money for every kilo of drugs the police seized with their help. The informants were drug dealers. They quickly realized that they could make a lot more money creating their own “drug deals” than they could helping the police stop real drug deals. They packaged up pool chalk in bricks to look like kilos of real cocaine, and they sprinkled a little real cocaine on the top so that the field tests would turn out positive. They would offer to pay someone money to drive a car with fake cocaine in the trunk to a location, and they would tell the police where and when the driver would show up. The police would then arrest them, and the field test would be positive. The drivers thought they were delivering real cocaine, so they would plead guilty before lab testing. The informants would be paid a lot of money for the seizures of what the police thought was real cocaine.
We were able to show that our client, the police officer, was fooled by this too, and he never got any extra pay or bonus for the seizures. Since then, Dallas County started lab testing suspected drugs whether the case was going to trial or not. The point, though, is that field tests are never a substitute for lab tests.
If you or a loved one has been accused of possessing or delivering illegal drugs, you need to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer with experience handling drug cases. This is especially true if it is a federal case. Not all criminal defense lawyers have experience handling federal drug cases. As a former federal prosecutor, I have handled drug cases from the beginning through trial on both the prosecution and defense side. Drug cases involve serious potential punishment. Make sure you hire a lawyer who is an expert in this kind of case.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug offense or are facing federal drug charges, contact Dallas drug lawyer John Helms immediately. Call 214-666-8010.