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Roadside Drug Testing Results in Wrongful Convictions

Ziliak Law Office July 14, 2020

Indiana residents should be on the lookout for roadside drug tests, which have become more popular in other states. Officers have been using roadside drug tests to determine if substances found on a driver or passenger are illegal. The idea is that, when an illegal substance is mixed together with the fluid in the drug kit, it will turn a certain color. However, these tests do not always work as intended.

Purpose of Roadside Drug Tests

According to studies, roadside drug tests are accurate enough for officers to use them as probable cause for making an arrest. However, and despite knowing that these tests are not always accurate, some prosecutors have used test results to obtain convictions. Some individuals who are arrested because of these tests feel they have no better option than to plead guilty to a charge of the prosecuting attorney’s choosing.

Flaws in The Tests

One issue with the roadside tests is that they result in false positives: legal substances can make the solution turn the same color as something like methamphetamine or cocaine. Another problem is that officers sometimes misinterpret the test results, as lab officials have acknowledged.

Wrongful Convictions Thrown out In Multiple States

In 2017, five convictions were thrown out in Nevada after it was determined that a substance that tested positive for cocaine was not actually illegal. Five convictions were also thrown out in Oregon, and at least 250 convictions were thrown out in Texas.

Tests Continue to Be Used Despite Knowing the Issues

Police officers claim they do not turn a “blind eye” to the risk of false positives, but they continue to utilize these tests. What’s more problematic is that when defendants plead guilty based on the results of these tests, the evidence is often destroyed before an actual lab analysis can be conducted.

These roadside tests will likely continue to increase in popularity given their ease of use and affordability. Indiana defendants should be wary of this and other tactics that police and prosecutors may use to try to coerce a confession or a plea deal. A defendant may want to refrain from entering into any agreements (or speaking with the police or prosecutors at all) without a criminal law attorney present.