Tennessee residents may be interested in learning about a relatively new method that police officers are using to test suspected drugs. This method, known as roadside drug testing, involves taking a small amount of a substance and mixing it into a fluid, which should change colors depending on the substance. This method is good in theory since it is fast and cheap (approximately $2 per test). In practice, roadside drug testing has resulted in several wrongful convictions.
In 2020, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office in Nevada reported five overturned wrongful convictions to the National Registry of Exonerations. The convictions, which were overturned in 2017, were of individuals who pled guilty to drug charges after police told them that a substance in their possession tested positive for cocaine. After the substance was later tested by a laboratory, it was determined to not be illegal.
The exonerations in Clark County followed five similar exonerations in Multnomah County, Oregon, and over 250 in Houston, Texas. Though the roadside drug tests are not being used everywhere, a previous report discussed widespread use of these unreliable tests in multiple regions, including Hillsborough County, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Though the tests have been found reliable enough to provide a sufficient basis for police officers to make an arrest, many judges consider the tests too faulty to be used as evidence at trial. Nonetheless, prosecutors can rely on these tests when trying to convince a defendant to enter into a plea bargain. Someone accused of a crime should consult with a criminal defense attorney before agreeing to a plea deal. Not only can drug tests be unreliable, but there could also be issues with how the cop obtained the substance in question in the first place, such as through an illegal search and seizure.