Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Too many glazed and confused innocents are being arrested

Daniel Rushing poses with the Krispy Kreme doughnut he purchased July 27, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Weeks earlier, Rushing, 64, had just left a 7-Eleven when an Orlando police officer pulled him over. She spotted something suspicious on the floorboard - pieces of a ‘rock-like’ substance. The results of a roadside drug test: methamphetamine. She handcuffed Rushing and took him to jail. But it turned out the methamphetamine was glaze that had fallen off his doughnut.
Daniel Rushing poses with the Krispy Kreme doughnut he purchased July 27, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Weeks earlier, Rushing, 64, had just left a 7-Eleven when an Orlando police officer pulled him over. She spotted something suspicious on the floorboard - pieces of a ‘rock-like’ substance. The results of a roadside drug test: methamphetamine. She handcuffed Rushing and took him to jail. But it turned out the methamphetamine was glaze that had fallen off his doughnut. TNS

You may want to be extra careful when eating glazed doughnuts in the car. If you drop a few crumbs, you could end up going to jail.

It happened to Dan Rushing, 64, a central Florida man who was pulled over for driving 42 mph in a 30 mph zone.

During the traffic stop, the Orlando police officer asked for permission to search his car, and during the search the officer found four doughnut crumbs on the floor in front of the driver’s seat.

The crumbs, Rushing explained, came from a glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut he had bought at the nearby 7-Eleven and had eaten while driving.

But the officer suspected the glazed bits found on the floor were crystal methamphetamine.

“Rushing stated that he has never done any drugs in his life,” the police report said.

The police, though, had the damning evidence right there with the help of a roadside drug testing kit.

“I recognized, through my 11 years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer, the substance to be some sort of narcotic,” the arresting officer wrote.

“I field tested the substance and I received a positive indication for the presence of amphetamines,” the report said. “I conducted a separate test on the substance and received another positive indication for amphetamines.”

Rushing, who was carrying his state-licensed concealed weapon at the time, was charged with possession of amphetamine with a weapon, and held on $2,500 bond.

He was strip-searched in jail and confined there for more than 10 hours. Weeks later, his case was quietly dropped after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that the two roadside drug tests created false-positive results.

It happens too often.

An investigative report published last month by ProPublica found that scores of people across the country are jailed and convicted every year based on faulty readings from frequently unreliable $2 roadside drug kits.

“Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all,” ProPublica reported.

“In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014. When we examined the department’s records, they showed that officers, faced with somewhat ambiguous directions on the pouches, had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.”

Often, these kits have been discredited enough to make them inadmissible as evidence in a trial. But the overwhelming majority of drug possession cases are handled with plea bargains, not trials.

And these plea bargains are made before these faulty roadside drug tests are verified in a lab. So if you’re too poor to post bail, the fastest way to get out of jail is to ignore your innocence and plead guilty to illegal drug possession.

ProPublica looked at 300 drug cases in Houston, where the defendants were wrongly arrested and convicted due to false-positive readings on the roadside drug tests. In 57 percent of those cases, the jailed and innocent defendants pleaded guilty to drug possession within the first eight days they were jailed.

Some people opt for a bogus criminal record over waiting in jail and hoping that the justice system finds the error.

So be careful out there.

Don’t eat in your car, and if you do, vacuum it regularly. To paraphrase McGruff the Crime Dog: If you take a bite out of a noncrime, clean it up.

Eating glazed doughnuts already comes with its own set of perils. Turning you into a criminal shouldn’t be another one.

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post. Email: frank_cerabino@pbpost.com.

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