Roadside Drug Tests: The Unreliable Truth

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Roadside Drug Tests: The Unreliable Truth

4 August 2016
 Categories: Law, Blog


Can a virtually useless and legally meaningless roadside lab test send you to jail and leave you with a permanent criminal record? Absolutely. To avoid ending up in a desperate situation, it's important to understand the facts about roadside drug tests.

Roadside drug tests are unreliable.

There are a number of popular roadside drug-test kits available to law enforcement—and all of them are unreliable. Many of these kits were designed in the 1970s, and their chemical components can be affected by everything from the weather to inaccurate handling by the officer. The chemicals themselves aren't even reliable indicators of drugs. One popular test for cocaine contains cobalt thiocyanate, which also reacts to several household cleaners and acne medication, instead of just cocaine. In fact, if you're using or carrying any one of more than 250 common over-the-counter medications or prescription medications, you could be the victim of a false-positive from a roadside drug test. 

Roadside testing for drugs is so unreliable that tests have come back positive for amphetamines—an ingredient in crystal meth—when the substance being tested was actually flakes from the sugar glaze on a doughnut that had been eaten in the car. 

The courts are aware that roadside drug testing is unreliable. As a result, roadside drug tests aren't admissible in court. In order to use the evidence, whatever substance the officer suspects of being drugs has to be sent to a lab in order for more accurate testing to confirm the results.

A plea deal can destroy your life.

Unfortunately, many people aren't aware of the unreliable nature of the roadside testing. Even though they did nothing wrong and know that they didn't have drugs with them, they're often demoralized by the arrest process and already convinced that the chemical evidence against them will lead to a conviction.

Keep in mind that the arresting officer doesn't have to explain that the tests are unreliable and aren't admissible. Nor do they have to tell you that the results have to be independently verified by a lab. If you aren't aware of these facts, you could find yourself in the same position that many others have before: accepting a plea deal for something that you didn't do.

It's estimated that at least 100,000 people a year plead guilty to drug charges based on the results of roadside drug testing. Many of them are likely innocent, but first-time offenders are often scared into accepting a plea that will get them out of prison within a few weeks instead of going to trial and risking a much longer sentence. Some studies indicate that over half of those convicted who are later proven innocent of drug charges plead guilty within the first week—long before the labs are able to return their results.

Most of them don't realize that their guilty plea means that they could lose future opportunities for housing and jobs or even put the custody of their children at risk. Legally, a guilty plea is the same as a conviction—and it will follow you everywhere for the rest of your life. 

Don't allow a roadside drug test to scare you into accepting a plea deal. If you're ever in that situation, talk to a criminal-law attorney such as one from Hurth Sisk & Blakemore LLP about your case immediately.