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Concerns over chemical field tests

There are various field tests that police might use during the course of a traffic stop or other investigatory effort. One of these is a chemical field test. These are tests police use to determine whether a given substance is a controlled substance. They typically involve police putting a substance into a pouch that has a special liquid in it and then watching what color the liquid turns. This color is supposed to indicate whether or not the substance is one of the drugs that the test is for. These tests are used by police departments throughout the country, including here in Florida.

The results from such tests could lead to drug charges being brought against a person. Also, sometimes, such results have not been brought to a crime lab for confirmation by the time that big decisions regarding their case (like plea deal decisions) come up for a suspect.

So, the accuracy of such tests is an important point of consideration. Now, these tests can have complex aspects. Given this, there is the potential for police to make mistakes when it comes to their use of these tests. This includes things like:

  • Mishandling of the sample to be tested.
  • Mistakes in administering the test.
  • Misinterpretation of the results of the test.
  • Performing the test on a substance that the test doesn’t work well on.

Given this potential for mistakes, one might hope that having extensive training on the use of such tests would be the norm at police departments. However, a federal survey has pointed to it possibly being fairly common for departments to not provide their officers with much in the way of training on these tests. What impacts do you think this is having on drug crime cases generally? What would you like to see police departments here in Florida do when it comes to chemical field test training?

As this discussion underscores, the results of field tests (like chemical field tests) aren’t guaranteed to be accurate. There are various factors that could impact how accurate the results of a test are likely to be. Among the things skilled defense attorneys can investigate for individuals facing drug charges in connection to a field test are whether there was anything that happened with the field test in their case that would call its accuracy into question.

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