Category Archives: Science and Technology

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

Polygraph on Trial in Conway

The title of this post is the headline of an article in the Horry Independent today.

Parties in a homicide by child abuse case coming up in Horry County Court in March are waiting to see if their case will be a “keystone” one in the state of South Carolina.

One of the attorneys involved in the case has asked that polygraph results be admitted into the case and after hearing two days of testimony on the issue, Circuit Judge Larry Hyman is considering the issue.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has consistently held the results of polygraph examinations are generally not admissible because the reliability of the tests is questionable. The results have been held inadmissible because they didn’t pass the standards for scientific analysis under Rules 702 and 403, SCRE and the Jones factors.

Two days of expert witness testimony. For this case, the defense wants the results admitted; the prosecution doesn’t. What about the next case? What happens if the roles are reversed? It is the proverbial slippery slope.

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Filed under Jury Trials, Motions, Science and Technology