When Texas police are about to make a drug arrest, they “confirm” that the substance they have found is actually an illegal drug with inexpensive test kits. However, a commission that was created to review wrongful convictions in the state determined that these drug field test kits are unreliable and should not be used alone to make drug convictions.
300 convictions based on evidence that was not drugs
In its final report, the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission found that alleged drugs in more than 300 cases that led to convictions in Houston were not actually drugs at all.
The commission, which was established by the Texas court system, is asking that crime laboratories confirm that drug evidence actually contains illegal drugs before each and every drug prosecution in the state.
Officers lack training on using drug field tests
The non-profit news organization ProPublica blew the lid off of the problems with drug field tests in an investigative report last year, which found that officers who made drug arrests often had little to no training using the field tests, and the field tests are not regulated by any governmental agency.
Making matters worse, suspected drug evidence often goes unchecked when an individual pleads guilty.
ProPublica reported that the field tests were developed to give officers probable cause to make arrests, and they were never intended on being used as the only evidence to lead to a conviction.
While drug field test results are rarely being used as evidence in trial, there are many plea bargains being reached based on them, which has the same effect: People are pleading guilty before the evidence against them is verified. Wrongful convictions are taking place as a result.
People accused of drug crimes need an effective lawyer
These important findings are just another reason why it is so important to work with a skilled criminal defense lawyer anytime a person faces drug charges or is accused of any crime. A good lawyer will demand that evidence like this is verified before providing advice on whether or not to plead guilty.