At first glance, it sounds like nothing more than a funny misunderstanding: Orlando police officers cannot tell the difference between donut glaze and illegal drugs. After all, if anyone should know donuts by sight, it is a cop. But last year, an Orlando man was on his way home from a local convenience store – where he had purchased a Krispy Kreme donut – when he was pulled over for speeding. During the stop, the 11 year veteran police officer saw a “rock like substance” on the driver’s seat. Know where this is going?
The officer tested the sugary substance, and it was incorrectly identified as amphetamines. Well, as it turns out, the substance was actually part of the donut’s glaze, and this poor man who just wanted a donut suddenly found himself arrested and charged with felony drug possession. Not surprisingly, the victim is now suing, casting light on the bigger issue of widespread roadside drug test abuse.
Poor Training Leads to False Arrest
Several weeks later, a Florida state crime lab re-tested the “drugs” and revealed its true origin as donut glaze. Prosecutors dropped the criminal charges. The victim recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Orlando and the the company that produced the roadside drug test used by the police officer.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the officer did not administer the test properly. In fact, “[s]he used the wrong type of kit” for one of the tests, and she failed to conduct a second test “with a different kit to confirm the results.” The officer was also disciplined for filing an incorrect arrest report.
After initial news reports surfaced about this case last year, the Orlando Police Department ordered all of its officers to undergo additional training on using its drug kits. Shockingly, the officer who could not distinguish between glaze and meth never received such training.
Abuse of Roadside Drug Tests is Widespread
But is there more to this story than just a poorly trained police officer? Late last year, the nonprofit news organization ProPublica published a series of articles in conjunction with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the New York Times about widespread problems with roadside drug testing kits. ProPublica said that according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s own figure, “21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all.” In other words, there’s a fair amount of “donut glaze” sitting in Florida’s crime labs.
The ProPublica report did confirm that many officers lack proper training. For example, officers in the Hillsborough County, Florida, sheriff’s department “had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.” But the field tests themselves are not reliable, even when properly administered. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice has advised against the use of field tests as evidence in drug cases since 1978!
Have You Been Falsely Accused of a Drug Crime?
Unfortunately, these tests remain popular with local law enforcement. And even though they are unreliable, prosecutors can coerce guilty pleas from innocent defendants based on their results. According to ProPublica, “prosecutors in 9 of 10 jurisdictions…accepted guilty pleas based solely on the result of field tests.”
Do not let yourself become another statistic. If you have been charged with a drug crime based on false or unreliable evidence, you need to speak with an Orlando criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, at (407) 377-0150.
CC image by Public Information Office at Flickr