Man Spends Three Months In Jail Because A Drug Dog And A Field Test Said His Honey Was Methamphetamines

from the another-godawful-trek-through-the-criminal-justice-system dept

Another field drug test has managed to misidentify a common legal substance. This doesn’t matter to the government, which is only out ~$2. But it does matter to the non-criminals being treated like criminals because the ultra-faulty tests are even worse than K-9s at detecting actual drugs.

Field drug tests have determined everything from cotton candy to donut crumbs to drywall dust to bird poop (on the hood of a car no less!) to be illegal substances, resulting in a cascade of horrors on the innocent, starting with the arrest and criminal charges, and proceeding directly to indefinite pretrial detention and the loss of income, housing, etc. that comes with it.

Field drug tests are more “reliable” than drug dogs. I mean, to the extent that they’ll more reliably generate the “probable cause” needed to search a car or arrest a person. If you’re looking to boost your drug war stats, nothing’s more useful than a cheap kit that can’t tell the difference between narcotics and common household items.

Adding to the pathetic annals of cops upending people’s lives with unreliable tests is this new twist: they’re using these at ports-of-entry as well. A legal resident of the US spent three months in jail because the field test couldn’t differentiate between a product created by bees and a product created by amateur chemists in a trailer park bathtub. (h/t Jeff Bonner)

After landing at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on 29 December at around 10pm, US Customs and Border Protection detained [Leon] Haughton for more than two hours before Maryland Transportation Authority Police put him in handcuffs, according to charging documents.

The bottles with gold-coloured screw tops labelled “honey” in his bag, they told him, had tested positive in a drug field test for methamphetamine.

Mr Haughton fainted. Police took him to a hospital. Then they took him to jail.

Leon Haughton is a Jamaican man with a green card. He’s a legal permanent resident of the US. He often picks up honey from Jamaica during his frequent visits and brings some back for friends and family members. This time he was greeted by Customs and a drug dog. The drug dog was also unable to differentiate between honey and drugs. Having been wrong once, Customs agents decided to be wrong twice. Incapable of thinking for themselves, they let a dog and a packet of iffy chemicals declare Haughton to be a drug dealer carrying a large amount of liquid drugs.

The two erroneous results (dog, field test) were negated three weeks later when the drug lab determined the honey wasn’t actually methamphetamines. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice grind slowly. The felony charges were dropped a little less than a month after Haughton was arrested. All of that time Haughton spent behind bars.

Why? Because the wheels of justice go completely off the rails once ICE gets involved. Haughton was a green card holder and that fact led ICE to issue a detainer. This screwed everything up. The detainer prevented Haughton from being released, even though a judge had cleared Haughton to be freed until his trial date. When his second bail hearing came up, he again asked to be released. The judge wanted to but the detention order possibly meant nothing more than a change of jails for Haughton.

Mr Haughton asked to be released on 24 January at his second bail review, but Anne Arundel County District Court judge Laura Robinson worried he would not appear for trial.

“The problem is I can’t let him go to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] because he would be deported potentially,” the judge said, according to a recording of the hearing. “Even if I released you, you still wouldn’t necessarily be released. You would go into federal detention.”

Haughton tried again to be released on February 5th. His lawyer pointed out the detainer was based on pending felony charges, all of which had been dropped by prosecutors. Again, the judge could do nothing. Due to the government shutdown, no one from ICE was fielding calls about dropping detainers. Since no one was available to pull the order, Haughton went back to jail.

The other hangup was the locals. Because a drug dog and field test had incorrectly determined Haughton’s honey to be meth, prosecutors were still hanging on to a single misdemeanor charge. This was despite the initial lab test showing the honey was just honey. It wasn’t until a second test came back with negative results that the state finally decided to drop the remaining charge. Once all the charges were gone, ICE finally decided to drop the detainer –one solely predicated on charges the state had dropped nearly two months earlier.

Sure, field drug tests do occasionally detect actual drugs. But the miss rate is too high to legitimately consider them to be the “probable” part of “probable cause.” They’ll never be abandoned because they’re too useful. They create easy arrests and easy prosecutions. Cops like drug busts and prosecutors love anything that might result in a quick plea deal. Given the choice between an indefinite stay in jail awaiting trial and a relatively painless deal with lesser charges, even innocent people will choose the option that gives them more immediate freedom. The government sees nothing but wins when it uses cheap, unreliable tests. All it sees is the occasional error that has zero effect on itself or its personnel.

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Comments on “Man Spends Three Months In Jail Because A Drug Dog And A Field Test Said His Honey Was Methamphetamines”

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21 Comments
David says:

And what if the field tests were correct?

What if those wayward bees actually collected from poppies, from hemp, from coca plants, or even indulged in waste substances from an illegal lab? Or, horror of horrors, illegally absconded with pollen from genetically modified patented plants?

What then? Or if the honey tested positive for pesticides, clearly proving the malicious intent of poisoning someone?

And let’s not forget that these days more U.S. citizens die of causes related to Coke consumption than of causes related to cocaine consumption, with soft drink related deaths far outranking hard drug related ones.

Maybe the whole idea of allowing people only government-approved manners of killing themselves needs a haulover.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: And what if the field tests were correct?

FTR, the specific drug test used in this case was for methamphetamine. To my knowledge, bees do not generally collect from plants that produce methamphetamines or from illegal factories that produce meth as a waste product, since, AFAIK, there are no plants that produce meth at all, and if there was an illegal factory that uses a process that produces meth as a side effect, they wouldn’t be dumping that meth; they’d be selling it. (Seriously, if they’re already doing shady stuff, I doubt that they’d be bothered with federal regulations on drugs like meth.)

Furthermore, in this case, both the initial and final tests of the honey in an actual lab showed no trace of meth or other illicit substances, so clearly none of these things actually happened.

As for the honey potentially containing traces of patented GMOs, even after setting aside the unlikelihood that such a thing would be detectable considering how honey is made and what it’s actually made of, I’m pretty sure that, in order to infringe on the patents, you’d have to grow plants that have the infringing traits or have seeds for such plants. No one is going to care if any amount of the pollen from a patented GMO got in your honey. I doubt that anyone would be carrying around field test kits meant to detect traces of a patented GMO.

Similarly, it’s unlikely that police would carry around field tests for pesticides, as pesticides aren’t inherently illegal; only wrongful use of it is. Cops don’t carry around field tests for things that are only illegal under specific circumstances.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: And what if the field tests were correct?

The law here differentiates trafficking from mere possession (for personal use). Thing is, who determines how much means personal or trafficking? Turns ou it’s the cops doing the semantics. In practice it means white people are users and everybody else are drug dealers.

But yeah, I see your point. This whole war on drugs is a tremendous stupidity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

One of the thousands of examples of the Innocent people being screwed. At least he wasn’t murdered by police in his own bed like has happened in the past to an Innocent man. The WAR ON DRUGS doesn’t work. Never will work. When you ban it, people are going to use it even more. Legalize it all. I know I still won’t use all this crap. Legalize it, Tax it. Fire half of the police department, close a few jails no longer needed, etc.

We throw more people in jail than any other country. The war on DRUGS must end. What happened to what someone does to their own body is no one elses business? You can still have private businesses do their drug tests and hire and fire people based on that. You don’t want Drunks working for you as you don’t want druggies working for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

i hope he is taking serious legal action to get compensation for the travesties he had happen to him and that more eyes see this and do something to correct the power the security forces have and use to suit themselves, even when the REAL evidence exonerates people arrested, charged, locked up and refused even bail, all for no reason! disgraceful way for people to be treated!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, and it seems to me that the manufacturers of the field drug tests are ripe for a very serious law suit, negligence and/or false advertising and/or conspiracy to sell products known to not work. At the very least, each of the manufacturers should be forced to show their products work in repeatable, double blind, public testing, or refund all the money spent on their worthless products.

As for the drug dogs, there is a right to face one’s accusers in court, but somehow no one is allowed to actually test the efficacy of individual drug dogs, which should be done with their handlers absent.

I would say a class action lawsuit, but then all the ‘winnings’ go to the lawyers involved rather than those who were harmed and should be made whole.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Must be a leftist. Everything is racist!!!! Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that Drug tests are B.S. Drug Dogs can signal whenever you want them to, and the WAR ON DRUGS, in general, is just B.S. Look what banning Alcohol created. Did it stop it, NO! Did it create Criminals like Al Capone, YES!!! It’s a whole jail industry. I think in general, the war of Drugs needs to END. Him being Black, who cares. This crap happens to white people also. Like the white guy in his own bed sleeping, Cops bash through his door, start going through the house, the guy wakes up, half asleep, Cops see him reaching for something, he ends up SHOT DEAD. There was no GUN or anything else. In fact, it was the WRONG HOUSE!!!

The police murdered an Innocent person in their own bed. This is the crap happening around the country. The police, of course, got off scot-free. It’s not a Racist issue. It’s a WAR ON DRUGS issue.

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