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Drug charges dismissed due to field test errors

Drug possession charges against a 24-year-old Texas man were dismissed by a Harris County judge on Jan. 4 after forensic tests revealed that he had been arrested for possessing about a pound of what turned out to be quite legal cat litter. The Harris County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to the news or offer an apology to the man for releasing his mugshot and name in a press release following his arrest on Dec. 5.

Deputies say that they pulled the Houston resident's vehicle over after it failed to stop before making a right hand turn in the city's Copperfield area. Deputies claim that the man admitted to possessing a small amount of marijuana when they said that they smelled the drug's odor emanating from his car. During a subsequent search, deputies uncovered a sock containing what they believed to be about a pound of illegal drugs on the floor of the vehicle.

The man says he told the deputies that he did not know what the substance was, but he was taken into custody after two field tests identified it as the Schedule II drug methamphetamine. It was later revealed that it contained cat litter that his father used to absorb moisture and clear the windshield. The man then spent three days in jail before posting a $50,000 bond, and he says that he was fired when his employer found out about the arrest.

Law enforcement agencies around the country like portable drug testing kits because they are inexpensive and easy to use. However, they are often unreliable, and they have been known to identify benign substances like doughnut glaze and baking soda as illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will likely be familiar with the issues surrounding these drug testing kits, and they may urge prosecutors to drop drug charges when their results cannot be verified by properly equipped forensic laboratories.

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