During a traffic stop, the police notice a plastic bag in your car that has the appearance of illegal drugs. You claim the substance is detergent. The police believe the bag contains cocaine. What happens next?
In general, the police cannot place you under arrest based solely on the presumption that a mystery substance is, in fact, illegal drugs. However, the police are unlikely to let you go on your way just because you tell them you aren’t in possession of drugs. To resolve this problem, the police rely on drug field tests.
Detecting the presence of illegal substances
A drug field test is a cheap means of determining whether a substance contains illegal drugs. They provide fast results and are easy to use, which makes them popular with the police. It’s unlikely that the results of a drug field test would be used against you in court. The substance in question will be subject to a more rigorous lab test after you’ve been charged. A drug field test simply provides the police with enough probable cause to place you under arrest.
People have been questioning the reliability of drug field tests for years. A Vice news report found that ordinary substances, including drywall and laundry detergent, have registered false positives as cocaine. Some people aren’t too concerned about false positives. A proper lab test should resolve any issues. However, a lab test is not automatic. Usually, the state will perform a test only when a case is taken to trial. Most people won’t take their case that far. Oftentimes, people will plead out to drug charges.
You don’t have to take the results of a drug field test at face value. You have rights, and it’s possible to raise an effective defense against drug charges. You should discuss your options with a skilled criminal defense professional.