Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Slow and steady wins the race

I recently handled a dope case in which the police claimed to have found one rock of cocaine in his vehicle. The officer, after cuffing my client and placing him in the back of his patrol car, conducted a warrantless search of my client's vehicle in violation of Gant.

During this illegal search, the officer found what he described as a "small beige piece of rock" on the floorboard of the vehicle. Using his handy Scott Cocaine Test Kit, the officer noted the rock turned blue, indicating the test was positive for cocaine.

According to the Scott Company's website:

Scott Company Drug testing products are Colormetric Field Tests for the presumptive identification of narcotics, illegal drugs and controlled substances.  The chemistry of the reagents found in these tests is of the same type relied upon by forensic chemists in laboratories to detect and identify illicit drugs & controlled substances. We have placed these reagents in better, more accessible packages that allow them to easily and safely used in the field by law enforcement officers. 
Though test accuracy is subjective contingent upon the composition of the substance being tested, we certify our test kits to be no less than 99% accurate. To date, there is no colormetric drug test kit (suitable for field use) produced by any manufacturer that is completely 100% accurate and immune from either inconclusive or false positive readings. 

We were set to argue our motion to suppress some five months after my client was arrested.

On the day of the hearing I got a call from the prosecutor handling the case telling me they were dismissing it. The state wasn't dismissing the case because the prosecutor came to the realization that my client's constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure, the state was dismissing the case because the lab who tested the rock found in my client's vehicle said it wasn't cocaine.

In the lead up to the suppression hearing, I had another prosecutor tell me that the search was good and that he would offer my client two years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea.

I don't know what disturbs me more about this case: the fact that no one from the DA's office notified me of the lab results until five months after my client's arrest or that a prosecutor was more than willing to send my client to prison for two years without any proof he had broken any law.

1 comment:

Thomas Hobbes said...

I think it's significant that the Scott Company appears to consider only two possible test results: positive or inconclusive. Since these side-of-the-road, noninstrumented screens are colorimetric, with the inherent subjectivity that label suggests, I wonder how often lawyers require the manufacturer to divulge: (a) the range of substances for which the screen will yield a false positive, and (b) the conversion rate; that is, if known, the frequency with which the screen result agrees with a laboratory confirmation test.

I'm just sayin' . . .