Field tests of suspicious substances have been proven to be suspect themselves after police have recently mistaken male enhancement pills for methamphetamine and motor oil as heroin. In fact District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg of Travis County, TX has stopped accepting low-level possession plea bargains due to 12 positive drug tests that were proven false. Most recently, Alexander J. Bernstein, 32, of New York has filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania State Troopers for jailing him after passing a field test on homemade soap as positive for cocaine.
According to the Morning Call, Bernstein was riding shotgun in fellow New Yorker Annadel Cruz’s rented Mecedes Benz when they were pulled over on I-78 in 2013. Officers notified them that they smelled weed in the car. Cruz confessed to smoking earlier in the day, but not in the car, and consented to a car search. Bernstein told the cops that he had a bag in the trunk and consented their search of it. They found “two brick-size packages, which were covered in clear plastic wrap and red tape.” Cruz told police that the 5.2 pound discovery was soap she made for her sister in Florida. However, police told the duo that the substance in the packages field tested positive for cocaine. The couple was charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine, possession of cocaine, conspiracy and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cruz also caught a charge for a small amount of weed found in her bra.
The Morning Call elaborates on the moment when the jig ascended:
In the lawsuit, Bernstein claims he pretended to be asleep at the barracks after he was arrested, and overhead troopers discussing the field test. One trooper said the package tested negative for cocaine, the suit states.
“Well … make it positive,” another trooper replied, according to the suit.
Bernstein was sent to prison under $500,000 bail. He spent 29 days behind bars before his bail was reduced to $25,0000 and he was released after paying $32,523 in bail and court costs. Two days later, lab tests proved the suspected cocaine was soap, and the charges were dropped.
“All the laboratory tests performed on the substance which the operator claimed, from the beginning, constituted nothing more than soap, confirmed that the package contained no cocaine, and no other drugs or controlled substances, but merely soap,” the suit states.
Seven officers are named in Bernstein’s suit, including one commander and a former state police commissioner. Also named in the suit is Safariland, LLC, the Florida manufacturer of the field test. Bernstein is seeking a jury trial and an award of $150,000 after paying the court costs and missing Thanksgiving dinner with his 17-month-old son.