Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Judge Vanessa L. Bryant too accepting of faulty field test for drugs

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Case:  Pickering v. DeFRANCE, Dist. Court, D. Connecticut 2016

What happened:  Police tested some powder for drugs three times using a field test and claimed that the field test indicated that the powder was heroin.  Police charged suspects with heroin related crimes.  Turned out, the powder wasn’t heroin or any other illegal drug.

Decision:  Judge Bryant said that the field tests were sufficient to provide probable cause despite the fact that the field test repeatedly gave wrong results.  She effectively held that plaintiffs did not meet a burden of proving the test to be unreliable.

Criticism:  The field test is a scientific test.  Judge Bryant should have put the burden on police to prove that  the test was reliable under scientifically developed standards of reliability.  She should have required police to show empirical data that proved the field test wasn’t some kind of a sham, instead of accepting, as she did, a police officer’s unsupported, conclusory testimony that the test always worked for him.  To put it bluntly, Judge Bryant messed up.

Another criticism:  Plaintiffs said that they saw the test and that a color change supposedly indicative of heroin did not happen.  Judge Bryant completely discounted this testimony because plaintiffs weren’t trained in administering the test.  Weak.  It doesn’t take an expert to determine whether or not a color change has occurred.  Seeing, or not seeing, a color change is not some kind of esoteric magic.

Comment:  When there is no video of the administration of the field test, courts should start drawing fact inferences against police in cases where there are disputes about what the field test indicated.  Police need to be appropriately encouraged to video these field tests.  Police need the opposite of Judge Bryant’s solicitous attitude.

Written by Burgers Allday

October 9, 2016 at 5:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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