POST: "'Unreliable Field Drug Tests Result In Innocent People Pleading Guilty," by Barry Scheck, published by The Huffington Post on July 15, 2016. (
GIST: "As the country — hopefully, finally — turns its attention to criminal justice reform in a concrete, non-rancorous, and constructive fashion, Pro Publica reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders have performed a great service through a first rate act of journalism. Their examination in the New York Times Magazine of innocent people pleading guilty in drug possession cases across the country based on false positive presumptive field tests reveals such miscarriages of justice are far more common — tens of thousands of cases — than even the most cynical suspected. It’s yet another hidden source of distrust, anger, and despair so many have justifiably felt for so long about the everyday functioning of the criminal justice system. And when we finally get around to counting these miscarriages of justice that generally arise from car and street stops who can doubt that we will learn that people of color have been disproportionally harmed? If, as President Obama recently observed, blacks are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over and three times more likely to be searched after being pulled over, it’s likely they are being victimized more often by false positive field tests. In Houston, Pro Publica found blacks made up 59 percent of the wrongfully convicted drug test defendants in a city where they are 24 percent of the population. Yes, it’s important to understand the underlying root causes of this problem are poverty, race and gross underfunding of criminal justice agencies. But individual stakeholders in the system must first acknowledge personal responsibility before we can make this right: the overburdened defense lawyers who take pleas without insisting on confirmatory laboratory tests, the prosecutors and judges who promote the pleas to get high rates of “dispositions” as quickly as possible, the back-logged crime laboratories that are relieved not to do confirmatory tests after guilty pleas, and police officials who ignore the high false positive rates and assume anyone who pleads guilty after a field test must have at least been attempting to possess drugs and couldn’t be an innocent victim of an unreliable test. In fact, the most telling aspect of this tragic story is that, starting in 2008, federal officials were funding local police efforts to perform presumptive field tests as a way to relieve crime lab backlogs. The policy was based on the explicit assumption that thousands of defendants would plead guilty after positive field tests because no one would require the laboratories to do confirmatory tests. That assumption was correct — 62 percent of laboratories do not do confirmatory tests after field test induced guilty pleas. But the policy overlooked the possibility that innocent people would plead guilty. It simply didn’t occur to anyone that scared, poor, overwhelmed innocent people would plead guilty, even in misdemeanor cases where the risk of innocents pleading guilty just to get out of jail is generally recognized to be greater than in felonies. This is particularly troubling because the collateral consequences of misdemeanor convictions can affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life including employment and licensing, housing, education, public benefits, credit and loans, immigration status, parental rights, interstate travel and even volunteer opportunities."
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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: