A 64-year-old man in Orlando, Florida, was arrested by police for what they believed to be methamphetamine. He was handcuffed, taken to jail, strip-searched, and sat there for ten hours while he came up with $2,500 bail.
But his alleged meth turned out to be flakes of glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut.
The 21% Chance A Field Drug Test Is Wrong
So how did a senior’s donut habit get him arrested for meth? Because the field drug testing kits used by police officers across America are highly inaccurate and give false positives much of the time. As the New York Times reported last July:
There are no established error rates for the field tests, in part because their accuracy varies so widely depending on who is using them and how. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all. In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriffs deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014.
In other words, 1-in-10 motorists subjected to these field drug tests for meth are completely innocent people in possession of no drug, just like this man.
Daniel Rushing had just dropped off one friend for a chemotherapy appointment and had stopped by a 7-Eleven store to pick up another friend.
Staking out the 7-Eleven was Cpl. Shelby Riggs-Hopkins, who was aware of reports of drug activity in the area. Cpl. Riggs-Hopkins saw Mr. Rushing fail to come to a complete stop as he left the parking lot, then tailed him and pulled him over for driving 42 mph in a 30 mph zone.
While he was producing his driver’s license, the corporal saw that he had a concealed weapons permit. He admitted to having a gun in his lawful possession, so she asked him to step out of the car.
“No, Officer, I Don’t Consent To Any Searches” Was Your Line
That’s when Mr. Rushing learned a valuable lesson about our 4th Amendment. Cpl. Riggs-Hopkins shined her flashlight into the car and spotted “a rock like substance on the floor board where his feet were,” she wrote in her report, adding ”I recognized through my eleven years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer the substance to be some sort of narcotic.”
The corporal then asked for Mr. Rushing’s permission to search the car. He voluntarily agreed, thinking “I didn’t have anything to hide.” Now after being strip-searched and jailed over donut glaze, Mr. Rushing has learned his lesson. “I’ll never let anyone search my car again,” he told the Orlando Sentinel.
That’s when she and other officers at the scene collected four small flecks of the donut glaze.
“I kept telling them, ‘That’s … glaze from a doughnut. … They tried to say it was crack cocaine at first, then they said, ‘No, it’s meth, crystal meth.’”
His arrest report confirms that he tried to tell them.
“Rushing stated that the substance is sugar from a Krispie Kreme Donut that he ate,” Riggs-Hopkins wrote.
But when the corporal whips out her standard field drug testing kit and drops in one of the flecks of sugar, it comes up positive for amphetamine. She re-runs the test, again it comes up positive for amphetamine.
That’s all the evidence she needs to then arrest Mr. Rushing, read him his Miranda rights, and charge him with possession of methamphetamine with a firearm.
Within the next three days, the state crime lab runs its test on the material and determines that it is not an illegal substance. The State Attorney’s office then dropped the charges.
Junk Science Field Drug Tests = 90% Of Drug Plea Deals
Orlando Police Department is standing by its arrest as a lawful one, despite a lawsuit now filed by Mr. Rushing for damages. OPD couldn’t explain why two separate field drug tests on sugar came up false positive for meth. A spokesperson for OPD revealed that they have no idea how often false positives cause false arrests of innocent people, writing to the Sentinel, “At this time, we have no responsive records. … There is no mechanism in place for easily tracking the number of, or results of, field drug testing.”
Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also unable to determine its rate of false-positive drug tests and corroborate the New York Times’ claim of a 21 percent false positive rate. The Times also reported last summer that the government has warned for over four decades now that these field tests are junk science:
In a 1974 study, however, the National Bureau of Standards warned that the kits “should not be used as sole evidence for the identification of a narcotic or drug of abuse.” Police officers were not chemists, and chemists themselves had long ago stopped relying on color tests, preferring more reliable mass spectrographs. By 1978, the Department of Justice had determined that field tests “should not be used for evidential purposes,” and the field tests in use today remain inadmissible at trial in nearly every jurisdiction; instead, prosecutors must present a secondary lab test using more reliable methods.
But this has proved to be a meaningless prohibition. Most drug cases in the United States are decided well before they reach trial, by the far more informal process of plea bargaining. In 2011, RTI International, a nonprofit research group based in North Carolina, found that prosecutors in nine of 10 jurisdictions it surveyed nationwide accepted guilty pleas based solely on the results of field tests, and in our own reporting, we confirmed that prosecutors or judges accept plea deals on that same basis in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle and Tampa.
Let this be a lesson to you. Come to a complete stop, obey the speed limit, and never consent to a search!