Last week, the Innocence Blog wrote about the ProPublica article exposing the highly unreliable field tests used by police departments around the country to secure guilty pleas for drug possession, even from innocent people. On Friday, Barry Scheck—co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project—responded to the story with a post on the Huffington Post in which he said that the miscarriages of justice revealed by the story are 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.”
. . . [T]he 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, [and] parental rights. . . .
Read the piece in its entirety here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barry-scheck/unreliable-field-drug-tes_b_11016904.html