If you’re caught with drugs in Las Vegas, NV, there’s a 99 percent chance you’re going to be convicted of a felony, even if the drugs in your possession are something as simple as aspirin and caffeine. That’s because, as The Free Thought Project has previously reported, the field tests, conducted by minimally trained police officers, are flawed.
The $2 field drug test, manufactured by The Safariland Group, have been proven to be unreliable. And according to the manufacturer, should not be used as a stand-alone test for convictions related to drug possession. But that’s precisely what’s been occurring in Clark County, NV. And here’s how it works to serve as an injustice for unsuspecting citizens.
First, a traffic stop, or a conversation with an officer of the peace leads to a search of a person’s vehicle or person. When a suspected illegal drug is found, a police officer then takes the substance and tests it with The Safariland Group’s field test which, most of the time, produces a false positive result for illegal drugs -- even if the test kit is completely empty.
The suspected drug user or trafficker is then taken into custody, charged with possession and spends time in jail, potentially leading to a loss in wages, time away from family and work, and may be traumatic to the individual. Instead of going to trial, and spending more time in jail awaiting a judgement by a jury of their peers, when the citizen goes before a judge during an initial hearing, the individual often pleads guilty, is given a fine, or some other punitive measure (rehab, therapy, community service, etc.) and is allowed to return to the community.
There’s only one major problem in the process. The Metropolitan Police Department’s own crime lab has declared the tests are unreliable and may be leading to false positives, false imprisonment, wrongful convictions, or worse; prison time.
Now, armed with the latest facts, and a result of increased news publicity surrounding the unreliable drug field tests, a Clark County Defense Attorneys organization has formed a committee, and is preparing to challenge the validity of those cheap, and admittedly unreliable tests.
“Laurie Diefenbach, a veteran defense lawyer and member of the committee, said the group is studying several options for taking on the routine use of the tests.” According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, “one option would be to file a broad motion asking the Las Vegas Justice Court to reconsider the admissibility of the tests at preliminary hearings,” because the “tests are not admissible as evidence at trial in Las Vegas.” By filing a broad motion objecting to the unreliable drug tests the Journal reported, “Individual judges” would then be able to “make their own judgments on whether to permit field tests to be used in the plea process.”
Ronnie Gabriel, ProPublica reporter who first broke the story, explained the situation Clark County residents are facing when they’re charged with drug possession. He says the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has “known about the problems with field tests.”
In 2014, Metro Police “produced a report saying ‘we’re finding false positives in methamphetamine and cocaine and we need to stop using those field tests,” he said describing a police report filed with the federal government as part of a governmental grant to study their police lab’s methodology. Gabriel said he stumbled across the report in 2015, and began to question why the department continued to use a test its own crime lab had deemed unreliable.
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What seemed to shock him the most during his investigation, was when he learned the police department not only refused to discontinue the use of their own admittedly flawed tests but they expanded the test to include heroin as well.
The ProPublica reporter said the science behind the field tests is about 200 years old, but said the tests could very well identify “80 other things” which aren’t illegal to possess. “There are many different substances which produce the exact same [chemical color] reaction that are not cocaine. There are migraine medicines [and] Lidocaine, like I said will often,” produce the same color reaction in the field tests as cocaine.
Gabriel says, “It’s not that they’re [police] lying,” but that the pressure to continue with the arrest and prosecution is very great and armed with these basic field tests, the officers proceed with confidence in the arrest. The only problem, as Gabriel sees it, is that the arrests are predicated on flawed and easily tricked field tests.
When asked if there’s a “feasible solution in the near future” to solve the problem of faulty false positive field drug tests, the ProPublica reporter responded by saying there’s a costly but effective solution to the cheap and admittedly unreliable field drug tests. “They could lab test all drug evidence in criminal cases,” he concluded.
Another solution, that is less talked about, would be to end the war on drugs entirely.
As it stands, once a suspect pleads guilty to possession in the preliminary hearing with a judge, Gabriel says the drug evidence is destroyed, and along with it, all hopes that the now convicted drug offender could later be exonerated.
The ProPublica reporter seemed worried at the thought of, “wrongful drug convictions on a level we don’t know because the Las Vegas crime lab does not re-test the field test results after somebody pleads guilty (at the preliminary hearing).” Gabriel describes the seriousness of being charged with drug possession in Las Vegas. He said, “more than two-thirds of cases are ended by guilty plea at the first hearing so the vast majority of drug evidence in Las Vegas never gets tested, those field tests never get re-checked even though they’re known to produce false positives.”
As The Free Thought Project has reported, independent lab tests revealed these same drug tests being used in Clark County, NV have produced false positives for cocaine when Tylenol PM was tested, and something as basic as Hersheys Chocolate has produced a false positive for marijuana. It’s time to call your city’s police departments and voice your objections to field drug tests being administered by non-scientists, police officers.
Pass on this article to every police officer you know, and to every sheriff out there. Let’s get the word out that these tests are potentially sending thousands to jail, ruining people’s lives and reputations, and possibly sending some to prison. Share this story with everyone you know who carries any over the counter medicines in their vehicles. Let’s get the word out and become vigilant to protect our fellow citizens’ rights to carry legal over the counter substances in their vehicles.