Remember that guy you knew in high school that got pulled over for speeding and was charged with possession of drugs? He likely claimed that the substance was not drugs and you likely thought it was just a ploy to get out of criminal charges.
Turns out he may have been telling the truth.
Field tests used to support these initial charges are “unreliable but widely used”, according to a recent report by Forbes. The report reviews a study conducted by ProPublica finding thousands are sent to jail for drug crimes based on faulty field tests.
Some of these falsely convicted individuals will seek exoneration. If successful, exoneration will result in release if serving a prison sentence and removal of the conviction from the individual’s criminal record.
What is a field test?
Field tests are, essentially, any type of review that is conducted by an enforcement officer at a stop or other scene of a supposed crime. Information gathered during this review is kept with the intention of using it as evidence to support charges.
It is important to note that not all evidence gathered during these tests is admissible in court. Determining what is and is not admissible can be a complicated process. Determining admissibility often hinges on the details of each individual situation.
Why are faulty field tests dangerous?
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the question of admissibility to never be explored. A large number of drug cases do not go to court. Instead, they are settled with plea agreements. The information gathered from field tests may be used to pressure the person accused of the crime to agree to a plea deal.
Why would this pressure work? The threat of a long prison sentence based on supposed evidence can frighten innocent individuals into agreeing to a shorter sentence. Unfortunately, even a short sentence can have a long term impact. An agreement to a plea deal generally results in a conviction. This conviction then shows up on the individual’s criminal record, making it difficult to get employment and housing.
Just how many cases are resolved through plea deals? Is this really a big deal. According to the piece in Forbes, the answer is yes, this really is a big deal. Approximately 90 percent of cases are resolved in this manner.
What should I do if I believe drug charges are based on faulty information?
It is important that those who find themselves in these situations take the charges seriously. Defenses are available that can help better ensure your rights are protected. Do not agree to a plea deal without discussing your options with experienced legal counsel.