Are field drug tests trustworthy?

No one likes someone accusing them of doing something that they didn’t do. However, someone falsely accusing you of wrongdoing based on faulty evidence is arguably worse. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to Georgia Southern University’s starting quarterback this past August.

Police stopped Eagles quarterback Shai Werts for driving 78 in a 55. Instead of a speeding ticket, what Werts received was worse.

During the traffic stop, police noticed a white substance on the hood of his vehicle. Werts respectfully denied the police’s allegations and said that it was bird poop. The police then used a field drug test to determine whether the substance was cocaine or something more innocent like animal excrement.

Officers arrested and charged Werts with misdemeanor cocaine possession after the test came back positive for an illegal substance. Yet, prosecutors later dropped the possession charge in time for Werts to compete in his team’s first game. Why? The test was unreliable.

A recurring problem

Unreliable field tests like the one used in Werts’ case are not new. The Washington Post ran a story in 2018 aptly titled “Why are police departments still using drug field tests?” about a woman who spent five months in jail after a field test gave a false-positive result for oxycodone.

An Atlanta local news investigation also revealed that drug field tests turned up false-positive results for things like cotton candy, breath mints and vitamins. An officer’s field test is far from a be all, end all when it comes to determining guilt or innocence.

While prosecutors cleared Werts in weeks, it’s not uncommon for months to pass before it’s discovered the person accused is innocent. It’s not difficult to imagine someone having difficulty retaining employment or caring for their kids if they’re jailed on false charges.

Fighting for your innocence

No, Werts should not have been driving as fast as he was when officers stopped him. However, he handled the situation well by keeping his cool and firmly explaining his side of the story. Werts’ side of the story was later vindicated with the dropped possession charge.

It’s important that you know your rights in a situation like this. Even a misdemeanor drug charge isn’t something that you want on your record. Having the police falsely accusing of a crime you didn’t commit may make you feel helpless, but there are people here to help.

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