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Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer > > Drug Crime > Cocaine or Clearasil? Field Drug Test Kits Can’t Tell the Difference

Cocaine or Clearasil? Field Drug Test Kits Can’t Tell the Difference


If you were a child in the 1980s, you probably owned a mood ring; maybe you bought it at a dollar store when one first opened in your town, or perhaps it was a party favor at a classmate’s birthday party.  The rings claimed to change color to reflect your mood; in fact, the color changes were just because of changes in temperature.  Therefore, the rings were always blue when you were indoors in the air conditioning and yellow when you were out in the summer sun.  Unfortunately, field drug test kits, which police use to test suspicious looking substances at traffic stops, are not much more scientific, but they lead to thousands of arrests each year for drug possession and other drug-related crimes.  If you are facing criminal charges after police administered a field drug test to a substance in your possession, contact a Pennsylvania drug crimes defense lawyer.

The Trouble with Field Drug Test Kits

Field drug test kits, which have been in use since the 1970s, are small vials containing cobalt thiocyanate, a chemical which changes color when exposed to various substances.  The trouble is that it is extremely prone to false positive results, to such an extent that it is not admissible as evidence in court.  Even the police departments in Pennsylvania that deny that the tests have led innocent people to plead guilty to drug possession just to get their cases over with will admit that they do not provide strong enough evidence to find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Under the current laws, they carry enough weight to enable an officer to make an arrest.  Before the defendant goes to trial, though, the substance must undergo forensic testing in a lab to determine which illegal drugs, if any, it contains.

In the News

The New York Times Magazine published a report on the dangers of field drug test kits, which, despite being highly unreliable, have led to thousands of people pleading guilty to drug charges even though they had no drugs in their possession.  Cobalt thiocyanate, the chemical in the test kits, is a pink liquid by itself.  When marijuana leaves come into contact with it, the liquid turns purple, leading to a test kit with dark purple liquid at the bottom and light purple liquid at the top.  Cocaine makes the liquid turn blue, but other, perfectly legal, substances like over-the-counter acne medication and household cleaners cause it to turn the exact same shade of blue.  Even atmospheric temperature changes can cause the liquid to change color.  Despite the unreliability of the tests, many people plead guilty after being arrested for a field drug test.  Defendants often have to pay the fee, hundreds of dollars, for forensic testing of the substance if they plead not guilty, and sometimes they are held in jail for a bail amount they cannot afford, and pleading guilty and getting sentenced to probation is better than staying in jail while waiting for trial.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

Field drug tests are unfair, but a drug defense lawyer will help you fight back.  Contact Pittsburgh drug crimes lawyer Gary E. Gerson about your case.






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