ProPublica recently posted an article that brings up a disturbing aspect fact I’ve already talked about, the reliability of those field drug testing kits law enforcement are using..
The story, entitled “Busted,” tells the horrifying story of a Louisiana woman named Amy Albritton who was convicted of drug possession in Houston, Texas in 2010 on the basis of an obsolete $2 field test (today’s field tests are virtually identical to ones used forty years ago), administered by the police officer on the scene. The officer had found a small crumb of a substance he had decided was crack cocaine – and the field test apparently “proved” it.
Ms. Albritton was arrested, processed, and jailed. Despite her insistence that she was innocent, the district attorney pressured her into accepting a plea bargain. She served three weeks of a six-week sentence in the county jail. By the time she had been released, she had lost her job, her home – and had a felony record that would follow her for the rest of her life, preventing her from getting a decent job and another home.
Meanwhile, the sample found in her car that had been the basis of Ms. Albritton’s conviction had not been subjected to any additional testing to confirm the results. Furthermore, the Harris County crime lab was poorly run in a slapdash manner; testing was rife with errors, and evidence was handled carelessly and even subject to tampering and falsification. Since the 1990s, the Harris County crime lab has been notorious for losing evidence, employing incompetent technicians, and worse. And this plague of incompetence is not limited to Texas, by the way; in 2013, the Boston Globe reported that a lab technician at a Massachusetts drug lab was fabricating results altogether.
Sadly as usual no one will be held accountable for this. Research going back five years and more has shows that these field drug tests kits produce false positives as much as 10% of the time. I can only imagine the thousands innocent people who sit in jails and prisons wrongly convicted based on this supposedly highly unreliable test kits.