Drug charges are taken very seriously in Missouri where the punishment for the crime could be anywhere from a fine of $500 to seven years in prison, depending on the specifics of the drug charge. Law enforcement officers have turned to roadside drug tests to better crack down on drug possession and distribution. In recent years though, the reliability of these roadside drug tests have been questioned.
Roadside drug tests on trial in 2018
In 2018, a California court ruled that a specific brand of roadside drug tests (also known as field drug tests) was not accurate enough to hold up in court. The case came after three individuals were arrested on illegal drug possession charges after taking roadside drug tests. Lab evidence presented to the court on the same samples returned negative for any drugs, contradicting the field drug test. These individuals were innocent but had been arrested on false charges based on a faulty test.
How false positives happen with roadside drug tests
These tests come in plastic bags that hold vials of chemicals. The officer adds the substance being tested to the chemical vial and waits. The test will turn a specific color if the substance is positive for common illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine.
However, legal prescription or over-the-counter drugs can turn up false positives on these roadside tests. In one case it was proven that a substance like chocolate could turn the drug test a color that was close enough for an officer to pursue drug charges.
Questioning test reliability when facing a drug charge
A case in 2021 against the Massachusetts Department of Correction further proved that roadside drug tests and similar testing kits are ineffective a significant percentage of the time. The judge for that case described the drug tests used in the prisons as “arbitrary and unlawful guesswork.”
Despite this, these drug tests are still used as the primary evidence in drug convictions across the United States. Defendants may even be pressured to plead guilty at preliminary hearings based on these tests that may not be accurate. It’s important to know your rights and question the reliability of the drug tests used if you are facing a drug charge, request a lawyer that can have your samples rechecked for accuracy.