On July 20, it was reported that a roadside test used in a Texas county provided false positives that led to nearly 300 convictions on drug-related charges over a period of approximately 10 years. Many of the defendants reportedly pleaded guilty so that they would be released from custody faster.
The test that was used in these cases uses a chemical called cobalt thiocyanate. When it is exposed to cocaine, it turns blue. However, the chemicals also turn blue when they are exposed to other compounds, which may include certain acne medications and even household cleaners. The creator of the test defended it by arguing that those who were not dealing drugs or using drugs would plead not guilty. This particular test is also used in other states.
There are several other roadside tests that are under scrutiny for providing false positive results as well. Two other roadside test makers were named as defendants in three different cases across the nation. While Harris County no longer allows defendants to enter a plea before the results of the roadside tests are confirmed in the lab, there are still other cities throughout the U.S. that do.
Even if a person is facing a drug charge after failing a roadside test, a criminal defense attorney may still be able to combat it. In some cases, the attorney may seek to have the charge dismissed if there is evidence that the roadside test gave a false positive. If there is strong evidence against the defendant but this is a first offense, the attorney may seek an agreement with the prosecutor that would provide for a reduced or alternative penalty.