Why Drug Lab Test Results Don’t Always Equal A Conviction: What You Should Know

How accurate were the tests done in your drug case? More and more defendants—both past and present—are questioning what goes on in police drug labs around the country. If you have a pending drug case, this is something you should know.

New Jersey Changes Its Standards

New Jersey's crime labs have made a change in the way drug testing is done in the wake of a scandal in which lab tech fabricated a positive result in a marijuana case—casting doubt on as many as 14,800 other convictions in which that lab tech was involved.

The lab used by New Jersey's police will now rely on a scientific method known as a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry instrument test, which is considered the "gold standard" of testing. The prior method that was used involved little more than a visual inspection under a microscope of color strip tests, a type of paper that changes color according to the drug to which it is exposed.

Massachusetts Lab Also Caught Cheating

The New Jersey changes come on the heels of another major scandal in which a Massachusetts crime lab technician's habit of fabricating results to match preliminary testing without doing any of the actual lab work was revealed, tainting as many as 20,000 drug convictions.

Shortly afterward, it was revealed that another staffer at the lab was, herself, regularly high on a variety of drugs while performing tests, putting another 18,000 cases under the microscope.

Convictions In Some States Equal Bonuses For Labs

Another problem that investigations into crime lab results have identified is that, in at least 14 states, state law funds the public crime labs through court-assessed fees payable by the defendants who are convicted. This essentially sets up a system that encourages labs to get as many convictions as possible. If their funding doesn't wholly rest on their convictions, then the convictions definitely provide a certain bonus.

Your Defense Should Include An Examination Of The Lab And Its Processes

If you've been charged with a drug crime, don't assume that a positive test result automatically can't be overcome. Thanks to these recent scandals and investigations into how drug labs are funded, it's become more and more apparent that drug labs don't always provide accurate results. Color strip testing can be countered as inaccurate and subjective, practices like "dry labbing" where the technician fits the test results to the preliminary tests without verifying anything through actual tests can be brought into question, and the history of problems at a lab can all be explored in court in order to cast doubt on test results.

For more information, consider talking directly to a drug defense attorney in your area.