The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at University of Pennsylvania has conducted a national survey regarding presumptive field drug tests and their role in wrongful convictions across the United States.
Many people suspected that the field tests used by law enforcement had problems, but until now no one knew how often, how many false positives resulted, or how many wrongful arrests and convictions they create. The numbers are much larger than anyone had expected.
The Quattrone Center surveyed police departments across the U.S. and learned that more than 750,000 field drug tests are conducted by police in the U.S. each year. They return false positives in many cases, likely contributing to more than 30,000 wrongful arrests and convictions each year.
That makes these error-prone $2 test kits the single largest cause of wrongful convictions that anyone has measured to date.
The racial implications cannot be ignored: On a per capita basis, Black Americans experience these erroneous drug arrests at a rate 3x higher than White Americans.
Prosecutors in this national survey described using field tests as leverage in plea negotiations, which creates a concern that people may be coerced into pleading guilty before a confirmatory test is done to prove their innocence. Defense attorneys can use this report to understand the limitations of these tests and educate the court about their lack of reliability at all phases of representation, including to argue for pre-trial release where clients are held in custody awaiting a confirmatory test.
- The full report is here for download: https://www.law.upenn.edu/institutes/quattronecenter/reports/field-drug-test-study/
- NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt covered the report and the impact of its findings