Police depend on drug kits to determine the presence of controlled substances in the field. Unfortunately, these tests do not always perform accurately. Utah couple Wendell Harvey and wife Gale Griffin experienced this firsthand when they were imprisoned for two months in an Arkansas jail for allegedly possessing over 3,000 dollars of cocaine. The “white powdery substance” was, in reality, baking soda that Gale used to treat her upset stomach.
The couple, who make a living hauling explosives for the US military, stopped at a routine checkpoint last May at an army national guard facility in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas where officers performed a routine search. When they found several plastic baggies of white powder, Harvey explained to the police that his wife used baking soda to treat her stomach problems. The substance was tested multiple times, and each time it read positive for cocaine.
Harvey and Griffin were taken to local detention center. Since they were unable to afford bail, they remained imprisoned for weeks until they were even assigned a public defender, unable to contact any family member to let them know where they were. Harvey told reporters, “I felt cut off from reality; it felt very strange--someplace that doesn't feel like America to me.” Griffin added, “I thought that I'd died and gone to hell.”
All charges were finally dropped in July, two months after Harvey and Griffin were apprehended, when the crime lab tested the substance and confirmed it to be baking soda. Although they are no longer detained, they are still struggling to put their life back in order. It took months for them to get their truck back from the state of Alabama, and they are still out of work because they lost the security clearance they need to carry cargo for the military.
The medium that police officers used to test the baking soda in this instance was a two dollar Narcotics Identification Kit (NIK), commonly used in such circumstances. This kit in particular has a proven record of false positives. According to KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas, these tests have “returned false positives for candy, tortilla flour, and vitamins.” Although these kits are notoriously inaccurate, with an estimated false positive rate of 21%, police continue to use them all over the country, sometimes with outrageous consequences.
In another example, in December of 2015, a man in Orlando was mistakenly arrested when an NIK drug test was used to test crumbs of icing from a glazed donut the man had eaten a week prior that remained in his car. The kit inaccurately tested the icing positive for methamphetamine, and the man was detained for ten and a half hours without access to his pain medication until bail could be posted. Although all charges were dropped, these tests are still in use throughout the United States.
Criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi formerly worked for the state of Washington as a prosecutor and will use his knowledge to effectively defend misdemeanor and drug charges. If you are currently facing criminal charges for possession, act now and contact him today at 206-621-8777 for an initial consultation.