It’s given the name “probable cause” even though it’s neither probable nor cause. The law likes to do that, because it lets good people sleep at night believing that there is a viable system in place that both protects them from the bad guys and preserves their freedom. Yay, law!
But probable cause is a rhetorical trick. Doggie sniffs, which are basically coin tosses with cute puppies who, when ordered, will bite your head off, continue to impose their tyranny on the public because judges aren’t cat people. When there’s no doggie to be had, what’s a cop to do?
When officers tested the powder using a $2 narcotics identification kit, it was identified as a controlled substance.
The only problem with the $2 testing kit, available at a K-Mart near you, is that it’s prone to false results. This isn’t a secret. So why use it? Did you not read that it only costs $2? The government has a duty to protect the public fisc. That’s your taxpayer money they’re spending, you know. And besides, they’re out there doing god’s work nailing criminals, and of all the things not worthy of your hard-earned tax dollars, who is worse than criminals?
Except that $2 test kits suck at catching criminals, because they suck at doing their job of determining whether a substance is a drug or, say, baking soda.
Gale Griffin and her husband, Wendell Harvey, haul cargo for the U.S. military. They were delivering a load in May, when guards at Fort Chaffee, an Army National Guard installation, conducted a routine search of their truck.
During the search, the guards found several baggies containing a white powdery substance, which Griffin explained was baking soda that she was using to treat an upset stomach. Unconvinced, the guards notified local police.
It’s hard to blame the guards for doing as ordered, assuming that’s what they were ordered to do and just didn’t watch too many “see something, say something” commercials on the tube. After all the Griffins were truckers, nice to see a married couple living and working together, and truckers are known to enjoy the occasional toot to keep them doggies rolling. 10-4, good buddy.
So the cops applied $2 science.
The officer said, “’You have over $300,000 in cocaine,’” Griffin told KUTV News. “I told him, ‘I never had two nickels to rub together. Are you crazy?’ He said, ‘I’ve never had two nickels to rub together either, but now I’m the owner of your truck.’”
Unable to afford bail, the couple stayed behind bars until mid-July, when a lab analysis found that the substance was, in fact, baking soda and contained no illicit substances.
When you’re rolling with over $300,000 (?) in coke, expect bail to be high. Whether the Griffins could have made lower bail is unclear, but they surely couldn’t make drug kingpin level bail. And so they sat.
There was a judge who set that bail, whose preliminary duty was to determine whether there was probable cause for arrest, and then what was needed to make sure these coke folk returned to court to meet their future. No doubt the judge was informed by the prosecutor that the trustworthy and unimpeachable officers of the law conducted a field test, and that test showed that these two were deep into cocaine, which is a gateway drug forced down the nostrils of our delightful children, leading to murder and rape.
Was the judge unaware of the $2 test? Possibly, because there is no requirement that a judge not be a blithering idiot as long as he has enough moisture on his tongue to lick stamps at the local party boss’ office, but not likely. This is a well-known thing, and most judges stay abreast of basic developments in science because they’re deeply concerned with what passes Daubert, even if their only interest in Frye is that it tastes good. Ah, science.
But the judge is in a difficult situation. The $2 test is what the cop is given to use, and if the judge holds, as integrity would demand, that it’s woefully insufficient to establish probable cause because the test is worthless garbage masquerading as science in Aisle 7 of K-Mart, he could be turning these trucking drug kingpins loose on society and be responsible for millions of your kids not getting into Yale because they were too high to do well on the SATs. His constituents would be sad and elect someone else to wear the robe, meaning he would have to work for a living.
So, a quick bang of the gavel, the utterance of a number with lots of zeroes, and society is protected as he kicks the can down the road.
“We’re not chemists, and we don’t roll with a chemistry set in the back of a police car,” Fort Chaffee Police Chief Chuck Bowen explained when Little Rock’s KATV News asked about the mistake.
No. No you’re not. Nor is the judge. Nor is the person who came up with the thrifty idea of putting people’s lives at risk based on whatever was on sale at K-Mart. But then, this has nothing to do with cops being chemists. It’s about putting people’s constitutional rights, their lives, at risk based upon a test that comes nowhere near probable cause.
And even if the test was close enough to reliability to justify its $2 pricetag, the substance could have been brought over to the Annie Doukhan Memorial Lab for analysis, where there are chemists and they have the whole chemistry set. So it’s too much to ask that you not screw with nice, hard-working folks like the Griffins in the first place? So it’s cool with everybody that a few people here and there have the lives up-ended for the sake of our good night’s sleep?
Fair enough. So then go from the worthless
doggie hit $2 drug testing kit that fits neatly next to the Glock on their Batman belt to the serious lab where they keep all the beakers and funny colored liquids that every judge is certain is “real” science that’s totally reliable and run a good test. If it turns out that the roadside test was goofy, shuffle your feet, say sorry, then cut them loose and give them their truck back so they can get on the road again.
After all, they could have cute puppies at home, and it’s beyond a reasonable doubt they’ll be dead by the time the labs get back. That would be totally unacceptable.