When the police in Jacksonville, Florida and other cities throughout the country find what they suspect to be illegal drugs, whether it is marijuana, cocaine, GHB or the many other narcotics, they will often use what is referred to as a field test kit to quickly test whether the substance is the drug they think it is. These tests are called field tests because they can be performed “out in the field” presumably allowing the police officer to determine whether a substance is an illegal drug without having to bring the substance back to the lab. When field tests results are positive, the police use those results as a basis for further searches and seizures, arrests and as evidence in a criminal case to obtain a conviction.
The problem is that these field tests are significantly flawed according to many articles and studies. A recent report issued by a forensic expert and a former scientist for the FBI found that the field tests commonly used by police give false positives more often than not when testing non-narcotic substances. For instance, they administered the field tests on non-marijuana substances, such as oregano, and found that the field tests resulted in false positives approximately 70% of the time. The field tests were similarly inaccurate when testing non-cocaine substances.
Police use field tests for a variety of purposes, i.e. to obtain search warrants, to search vehicles and homes, to seize evidence, to charge people with drug crimes and as evidence in a criminal trial. The United States Supreme Court has prohibited the use of inaccurate tests to prosecute someone for a drug crime, or any other crime, for that matter. These reports call into question the Constitutionality of using drug field test kit results against any defendant charged with a drug crime in a criminal case.