When a Texas police officer stops a suspect with a suspicious substance, they need to have a reasonable belief that the substance is an illegal narcotic. This is otherwise known as having probable cause to make the arrest. However, there have been recent reports that the test used to establish whether the substance is a drug is flawed.
Defendants in Nevada and Oregon have recently had their convictions overturned due to flaws with this test. Typically, officers will take a seized substance and drop it into a mix of chemicals that cost $2 to get a reading on the powder. If the chemicals turn colors, it is an indication that the substance contains narcotics. However, the cheap test is unreliable and may result in a false positive.
The problem is that the arrest that apprehended the suspect becomes an illegal seizure under the Fourth Amendment. If the test has given a false positive, there is no probable cause to arrest the suspect. The further difficulty comes when a suspect pleads guilty without any further tests on the substance to conclusively determine that they have been found with drugs. Then, a person has been convicted of a crime on the basis of an illegal arrest. Some defendants who have entered into plea bargains due to the roadside tests are moving to set aside their convictions due to an illegal arrest.
The possibility for faulty evidence underscores the need for a criminal defense attorney to represent a person arrested on drug charges. Even if a person does not intend to fight the charges, they may need the help of a lawyer to negotiate the best possible plea agreement. The attorney may also determine when their client’s rights have been violated and file a motion with the court.