Monthly Archives: August 2011

Another faulty drug test

A 66 year old woman was held in jail 12 days because of a faulty drug test:

In April, Janet Goodin of Warroad, Minn., was crossing into Canada for an evening of bingo with her daughters when an officer with the Canadian Border Service conducted a routine search of her van. The officer found an old bottle of motor oil, did a field test and told her that it contained heroin.

“I can’t even describe the feeling of amazement,” Goodin, 66, said in an interview. “I said, ‘That’s not possible, it’s leftover oil.'”

The bottle was re-tested, and agents said it again revealed the presence of heroin. Goodin was arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail, where she was strip-searched. The motor oil was sent to a Canadian federal laboratory, which eventually determined there was no heroin in it. After 12 days behind bars, Goodin was released.

Goodin’s case has been seized upon by critics who question the reliability of field drug-test kits, which are used widely by law enforcement.

“She is what you call collateral damage in the drug war,” said former FBI special agent Frederic Whitehurst, a North Carolina attorney and forensic consultant with a Ph.D. in analytic chemistry, who has publicly raised concerns about field drug-test kits. “When you run the tests, you run into all sorts of problems from overzealous cops.”

Goodin was actually arrested twice: first by the Border Service, which performed the field test, and then by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which took over her case from the Border Service.

The Border Service won’t explain how they made the mistake. But Sgt. Line Karpish of the RCMP said her agency used “reasonable grounds” based on information it got from the Canadian Border Service. She noted that drugs are smuggled into Canada by all types of people. “We find it in diapers, we find it on old ladies, young ladies, beautiful ladies,” Karpish says. “You can’t let ‘grandma’ cloud your judgment about the police force. That’s why terrorists use kids.”

No, Sgt Karpish, we don’t want “grandma” to cloud your judgment, but we do want you to be a little more responsible when it comes to holding people in jail over faulty drug tests.

Twelve days is absolutely unreasonable. Has anyone ever noticed that time doesn’t seem to matter to the people responsible for holding someone else in jail?

As Radley Balko points out, you can now add oil to the list of false positives. Chocolate chip cookies, deodorant, billiards chalk, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, patchouli, spearmint, eucalyptus and breath mints.

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Filed under Police Misconduct, Science and Technology

An Open Letter to Clients at the Jail

When I told you not to share your discovery with anyone, I really meant to say do not share your discovery with anyone, even if it’s your cellmate/paralegal.

The alternate title to this post could be: No thanks, I have a paralegal and he’s not in jail. Better yet, it could simply be this. If he’s so smart, why is he in jail too?

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Filed under Uncategorized

The Root Cause of DUI Law’s Failure

According to an article in the local paper today, the DUI laws are a failure.

Despite decades of awareness campaigns about the public health hazard impaired driving poses, and all of the tough rhetoric about South Carolina’s zero tolerance for drunk driving, the DUI conviction rate here remains low.

That could be considered a success, not a failure.   Read the above quote again. It definitely should be considered a success.

You see, it all depends on what you are looking for. Either you want less people driving drunk on the roads or you want more people convicted of driving drunk on the roads. I don’t see how you could possibly want both.

But the article doesn’t address that little paradox. It would rather focus on grabbing your attention with a headline stating that the DUI laws are flawed. The article would rather generate a little controversy by implying that the laws are too complicated for the police or assistant prosecutors to figure out so that cases can be successfully prosecuted. That is simply not the case.

The DUI laws are complex and they should be. DUI is the one law that someone can be charged with when we don’t even know if a law was violated. Every other criminal charge begins when we know a crime was committed. We may not know who did it, but we know it was done. Not so with DUI.

If you take a close look at the cases made for driving under the influence, you will see that the majority of them are made by the same police officers and highway patrolmen. Over and over again. It’s what they do and they are good at it. The same can be said about the assistant solicitors prosecuting these cases.

The article goes on to cite numbers regarding the unsuccessful prosecution of DUI and DUAC cases. If you really want to talk numbers that matter, here is a quote in the article from Solicitor Greg Hembree:

The highway patrol has put a lot of emphasis on making a lot of cases and generating a lot of numbers,” he said. “That has led to some low-quality cases.

It’s not the DUI laws.

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Filed under DUI/DWI

Former Chanticleer David Sappelt called up to MLB

David Sappelt will make his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds. The former Coastal Carolina centerfielder is scheduled to start tonight against the Chicago Cubs. He will lead off and play leftfield.

Sappelt was called up from Triple-A Louisville where:

He was hitting .313/.387/.458 at Louisville with seven home runs and 27 RBI. He’s been hot lately. He hit .415 over last 10 games.

Sappelt was the Reds’ minor league hitter of the year last year. He hit .342 with 32 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs and 74 RBI while moving Single-A Lynchburg to Double-A Carolina to Triple-A Louisville.

Sappelt is a former Big South Player of the Year and helped lead the Chanticleers to a Super Regional against UNC in 2008.

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Filed under Coastal Carolina Baseball

Discretion

Solicitor Greg Hembree has dismissed the charge of leaving the scene of an accident against former Atlantic Beach Mayor Retha Pierce.

I have written about discretion before and how it starts with the officer on the street and continues up to the prosecuting attorney. Well, this is a good example and it comes from the top prosecutor for this county.

Pierce was found guilty of resisting arrest recently and sentenced to 18 months probation. According to Hembree:

Certainly the most serious charge was resisting arrest. Once she was convicted of that, it was the maximum sentence. If we took her in on that case, she would not get an additional bit of punishment. It would run concurrent to what she is serving.

Could the state have gone forward with this case? Sure. Would they get a conviction? Who knows? Probably, but who cares? What good could come from prosecuting this case?

Another word for discretion is judgment.  Solicitor Hembree has shown good judgment in dismissing this case. Nothing else could be served from going forward with it.

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Filed under Prosecutorial Discretion