Roadside Drug Testing Experiment in Michigan – Lessons From History

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Having just discussed with you the proposed roadside drug testing pilot program that the Michigan State Police have been tasked with running here in Michigan, it is important to look at this subject from all angles, including the rather dubious history it has in other parts of the country.

 

In the early 1970s, a chemist named L.J. Scott Jr. formulated a test kit that officers could use to test a suspect for the presence of cocaine. As a member of the only recently assembled Drug Enforcement Agency, Scott was well aware of the fact that cocaine use was spreading like wildfire and he was under pressure to come up with something that law enforcement could use to determine if someone had used the substance.

 

Long story short, Scott came up with what he called a “highly sensitive and specific” chemical solution that he swore could infallibly test for the presence of cocaine. In an internal memo, he described his method as “almost impossible to misinterpret.” Before long, thousands of drug kits were being sold across the nation to countless law enforcement agencies and vast numbers of people were being accused of drug consumption based on the merits of these tests.

 

As it turns out, the solution was perhaps less “sensitive and specific” than Scott had hoped for and as a result, a stunning number of people were wrongly convicted of drug use and sent to prison. After Scott left the DEA and started up his own private company, he began selling his roadside drug test kits to several police departments but his biggest customer was the Houston Police Department in Texas.

 

The problem it seems, was a combination of both chemical and user failure. The test often provided false positives, and the officers administering them frequently misinterpreted the results. As a result, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has spent a sizable portion of the last two years working to address wrongful convictions stemming from Scott’s field tests. In addition, they no longer accept guilty pleas from a defendant until the crime lab has had an opportunity to independently establish the presence of cocaine in a subjects

 

In an interview with ProPublica, Charles McClelland, Houston’s recently retired police chief, said that the issue that Houston is facing right now should serve as a warning to other police departments across the nation. So in that light, we are glad to be able to remind you that in Michigan, no one is ever convicted on the strength of a roadside test alone. In Michigan, all roadside drug test results will be confirmed through a thorough lab analysis, ensuring that no one is falsely convicted.

 

In essence, it will be very similar to our current roadside drunk driving breath test. A preliminary breath test (PBT) is used by law enforcement as a PRELIMINARY screening tool for drunk driving.However, nobody in Michigan gets convicted based on only PBT results alone. All test are confirmed at the jail by using the DataMaster machine, which provides much more reliable results. As one of our defense attorneys recently pointed out, there is a right way and a wrong way to do drug testing. In Michigan, we plan to do it the right way.

 

If you or a loved one have been accused of driving under the influence of narcotics, drugs or alcohol, you are going to need an experienced attorney on your side, fighting to ensure that your rights are not being violated. Contact our defense team  today at 866-766-5245. We’re here to help.

 

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