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Strange story, but not something to stun experienced defense counsel

by | Dec 9, 2016 | drug charges

Americans of every stripe do not reasonably want to ever interact in an adverse way with criminal law authorities, of course, knowing that there will be nothing pleasant to mark the experience.

What buoys their expectations that no such result will ever occur is rightfully a fundamental view that the justice system is rational and innately fair at the core.

That is, a collective perception holds in Louisiana and nationally that, while the system is obviously not perfect, it is fundamentally fair and does not allow for egregiously off-the-wall outcomes.

A married team of professional truckers with top-end security clearances and jobs hauling explosives for the military certainly shared that reasonable viewpoint, until something extraordinary happened to them earlier this year.

That was this: Police in Arkansas summarily threw them in jail and subjected them to a months’-long hellish experience in the wake of a botched testing for narcotics that improperly identified the wholly innocuous substance of baking soda for cocaine.

In retrospect, what multiple media accounts have noted as being especially galling about the case is that the incorrect test result stemmed from the conclusion of a so-called Narcotics Identification Kit.

Here’s what jumps out about that: The kit costs enforcement agencies $2 and comes with a history of confirmed errors.

The kits are flatly “not infallible,” notes one criminal law commentator.

“They are subject to misreadings,” he adds, which was the case with the truckers, bringing frightening consequences.

Those included two months spent behind bars in a local jail. Moreover, the couple was no longer employed when they were released, with their high-level security clearances having been revoked. On top of that, their rig had been impounded and damaged.

Such a tale is awful, of course, but things of similar magnitude are not in short supply in the criminal law realm. Criminal outcomes are flawed by improperly calibrated breathalyzers, for example. Lab tests — including DNA and various forensic exams — are far from being error-free.

Such mistakes have immediate and dire implications, as was the case with the truckers.

The presumption of innocence is a bedrock American principle. An experienced defense lawyer will ensure that police officers and prosecutors reasonably prove every element of their case and that their offered proofs — including things like narcotics assessments based on ultra-cheap investigatory tools — withstand scrutiny.