In college towns across Pennsylvania and the United States, police officers are on high alert for the types of crimes normally associated with college life – including drug possession. Unfortunately, while many police departments will gladly invest in officers and patrols, they aren’t willing to invest in quality field testing kits that help identify illegal drugs outside of a lab setting.

Too often, the end result is that “offenders” are arrested for possessing substances which are perfectly legal and not decidedly not drugs. In most cases, the errors are cleared up by further lab testing. But in the meantime, innocent people can spend weeks or months in jail because they can’t afford the high costs of bail.

The problem of faulty field drug tests was discussed in a recent op-ed piece. The author tells the story of a woman who was a passenger in a car that had been pulled over in Georgia. The officer became suspicious of a bag containing a blue substance. A field drug test revealed that it was meth, and the woman was arrested. Unable to afford the $1 million bail set in her case (because the quantity made her seem like a drug trafficker), she was forced to spend three months in jail. When real lab tests came back, they showed that the “meth” was actually cotton candy.

The woman’s story is not unique. Many police departments around the country continue to use field drug test kits that are either unproven or are notoriously unreliable. While defendants wait in jail, they may be pressured to take plea deal and confess to crimes they know they didn’t commit. At the very least, they may lose jobs or get kicked out of school while the mistake is slowly corrected.

There are several ways to prevent these problems if police officers and prosecutors are willing to make changes: getting rid of pretrial detention and plea deals in cases where field drug tests were used, for instance.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that law enforcement will adopt any of these changes. That’s one reason why it is so critical for defendants to seek the help of experienced criminal defense attorneys. If you or a loved one has been falsely arrested and charged with drug crimes, please do not wait to call a defense lawyer as soon as possible.