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Field drug test kits shown to be unreliable

Some California law enforcement officers use road-side drug test kits so that they can quickly test substances that they suspect are illegal drugs. These are used around the country as well, and an Arkansas case demonstrates that there are problems with these field tests and that police might want to avoid using them.

In the case, a truck-driving team was taking a load to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. When they arrived, they were stopped for a routine inspection at the gates of the base. An officer who was conducting the search found some white powder that he suspected was cocaine. A drug field test that the officer used confirmed his suspicions, and the two truck drivers were arrested.

The female truck driver told the police officer that the substance was baking soda. She said that she took it with her because she used it for many purposes. The truck drivers spent two months in jail before the lab tests on the substance came back and showed that the powder was indeed baking soda. The truck drivers lost their jobs and had to take several more months in order to get their truck back. Reportedly, the test kits for other drugs also return false positives. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 21 percent of the substances that field test positive for methamphetamine are later determined by a lab to not be methamphetamine.

Drug possession charges can bring severe consequences if a conviction is obtained, including incarceration and fines. People who are convicted may have collateral problems that continue long after they have finished their sentences. They may have trouble finding jobs, securing housing or obtaining credit. People who are facing these types of charges may want to have legal assistance in combating them, even when it is obvious that the substance that was seized was not illegal.

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John Patrick Ryan has been practicing law for over 20 years. Experienced in criminal law. U.S. Navy Veteran.