When Pennsylvania residents are arrested, it must be on the basis that the officer has probable cause to believe that there has been a crime committed. However, officers sometimes end up having a mistaken belief. In those cases, suspects must be released and convictions overturned. Recently, faulty field tests for drugs have led to numerous convictions being thrown out because they tainted the suspect’s arrest.
When officers apprehend a suspect with a substance that looks like drugs, the officers have the ability to give it a basic test on the spot. They take what they have seized and drop it into chemicals, looking for a change in colors in the chemical to indicate the presence of drugs. This is most often done when officers detect a substance that looks to be cocaine. However, it is now being learned that these tests may yield false positives.
Juries never convict defendants on the basis of these tests as further complex analysis is needed in order to serve as evidence at trial. However, most defendants do not ultimately go all the way to trial. They will negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor and avoid court. When the basis for the arrest is a faulty field test, this makes the arrest an illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This cannot be the underpinning of a conviction, so it must be overturned.
In order to make sure that a defendant’s legal rights are respected, a criminal law attorney may help them navigate the justice system. If there are instances in which their client’s rights are being violated, the attorney may move to have the charges dropped or a conviction overturned.