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Photo of attorneys David F. Fessler, Joseph F. Grimme and Timothy E. Schneider

Flawed test results in overturned convictions

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Criminal defendants who have been charged with drug crimes in Kentucky should reexamine the circumstances of their arrest. A common field test used to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest a suspect has proven to be flawed in many instances. As a result, some defendants are having charges thrown out or convictions overturned.

The test costs only $2 and is designed to work in a very simple manner. When a police officer apprehends a suspect carrying a substance believed to be drugs, the officer drops the substance into some chemicals. If the substance is a drug, the chemicals will change colors. Then, the officer will arrest the suspect, and the suspected drugs will be sent to a lab for further confirmation and testing. The field test alone is never enough to convict the defendant.

The problem for law enforcement is when the suspect pleads guilty based on the positive test results in the field. These tests have now been shown to induce false positives. As a result, there may never have been probable cause to arrest a suspect in the first place. Then, their conviction is invalid because it was based on an illegal arrest. In Nevada, five defendants recently had their convictions reversed or charges dropped due to issues with the field tests that were used.

Criminal defendants need to be vigilant when they are in the criminal justice system to make sure that their constitutional rights are respected. Many defendants simply do not know enough to know when their rights are violated. When arrested for drug charges, they may seek a defense attorney to scrutinize the evidence in the case and ensure that none of it is inadmissible. The attorney may file a motion with the court to throw out the evidence or toss the arrest.