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Lawsuit highlights problems with roadside drug tests

Washington residents may recall a December 2015 media story about a Florida man who was charged with drug possession after a police officer mistook flakes of sugar glaze from a recently consumed donut for the Class A drug methamphetamine. The man spent 10 hours behind bars before being released on a $2,500 bond, and he filed a lawsuit in October 2016 against both the city of Orlando and the manufacturer of a roadside drug testing kit used by the officer involved seeking damages of at least $15,000.

An Orlando police officer said that she noticed flakes of a whitish substance on the floor of the man's car after pulling him over for speeding, and a roadside drug test indicated that the flakes were methamphetamine. The man claims to have told the officer that the substance was glaze from a donut that he had just finished eating, but he was taken into custody based largely on the results of the test. The charges against the man were dropped a few weeks later after a more rigorous laboratory test revealed that the substance found in the man's car was sugar and not a Class A drug.

Legal observers have pointed out that roadside drug testing kits used by police departments all over the country are highly unreliable, and they say that tens of thousands of innocent individuals are arrested each year because officers place far too much faith in the results they produce. Law enforcement agencies are said to like the kits because they only cost about $2 each and give officers the ability to make more informed decisions in situations where drug use is suspected.

Criminal defense attorneys may be familiar with the issues surrounding portable drug tests, and they could vigorously seek to have charges dismissed when prosecutors fail to produce any evidence supporting the results they provide. Individuals facing drug charges often feel that the criminal justice system is stacked against them and accepting a plea agreement is their best option, but defense attorneys may urge them to assert their innocence when the evidence against them is compromised or unconvincing.

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