Roadside drug tests could produce inaccurate results

Research indicates that roadside drug tests may provide inaccurate results, which could lead to wrongful convictions.

When Florida law enforcement officers pull people over on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may administer a roadside test in order to determine whether the driver is actually drugged or drunk. If the readings of these roadside tests show that the motorist is indeed driving under the influence, the driver may be arrested and charged with a crime. According to the New York Times, at least 1.2 million people in the U.S. are arrested for the illegal possession of drugs each year. However, law officers are not chemical scientists, and may make mistakes when conducting roadside drug tests. Multiple studies also indicate that roadside drug tests often provide unreliable results and could lead to the wrongful charge and conviction of an innocent person.

The problem with roadside drug tests

When officers want to identify an unknown substance, they may use a chemical reactant to see if the sample changes color. For example, cocaine will turn blue when it is exposed to the chemical cobalt thiocyanate. Yet, cocaine is not the only thing that turns blue when exposed to the chemical. Dozens of other compounds, including household cleaners and acne drugs, also show positive under the test.

There are other issues that can alter the results of a roadside drug test. If the officer conducting the test performs the steps in the wrong order, the results can be affected. Furthermore, bad lighting and street glare can make it difficult for the officer to read the test correctly. Other environmental factors, such as heat and moisture, can increase the chances of a false positive as well. Surprisingly, there are no agencies in the country that regulate the manufacture of drug tests, which leads some to question their reliability.

The facts

Although the number of mistakes and wrongful convictions caused by roadside drug tests are unknown, researchers have found that the error rate is significant. For example, after investigating roadside methamphetamine test records from a law enforcement department in Hillsborough County, researchers found that within a seven-month period, at least 15 tests erroneously reported positive for the drug.

Obtaining legal defense

People who are convicted of felony drug possession in Florida may receive hefty fines and could be required to spend time in prison. Furthermore, they will forever be marked as a felon, which can make it difficult to find a job or apply for financial assistance. If you have been charged with a serious crime, you may want to seek counsel from a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling drugged driving cases.