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.