Are drug field tests reliable?

The police stop your car. As they approach, they notice a baggie of white powder in the back seat. You tell them it’s detergent from your last trip to the laundromat. The police think it’s cocaine. Do the police have enough evidence to place you under arrest?

Presumption alone is generally not enough probable cause for an arrest. On the other hand, few people would expect the police to let anyone go based solely on their word. How does one figure out whether the substance is, in fact, detergent or an illegal substance? The answer is through the use of drug field tests.

A simple means of gathering evidence to make an arrest

Drug field tests are cheap and easy to use. This makes them popular with law enforcement. They’re designed to detect the presence of illegal substances. However, the results of these tests are usually inadmissible in court. They are effective for giving the police enough probable cause to make an arrest. A proper laboratory test will be performed if you take your case to trial.

The problems of false positives

Critics have long been questioning the reliability of these tests. According to a Vice news report, drug field tests have identified whey powder, drywall, and, yes, laundry detergent as cocaine. You may wonder why this matters if a lab test will ultimately provide a clearer picture. However, a lab test is only going to be performed if your case goes to trial. Most people don’t take things that far.

A trial takes time and money. Often, people feel compelled to plead out in an effort to move forward with their lives. This means there may be people out there with a criminal record for doing nothing more than their laundry.

When you’re charged with a crime based on the results of a drug field test, don’t take those results at face value. You have rights. A skilled legal professional can help you protect your rights and defend against criminal charges.