Portland DA Won’t Accept Plea Deals Based on Cheap Drug Test Kits
November 30. 2016 (Fault Lines) — Here on the left coast, people are predicting the end of humanity sometime within the next four years. From Washington to California, there are cries to rally and fight the new evil and publications that will publish anything are publishing articles written by just about anyone on how to combat the new regime, how to live in it and how to get over your recently acquired depression.
Meanwhile some real journalists over at ProPublica are likely celebrating the fact that the crappy two dollar drug tests sending thousands of innocent people to jail will no longer be enough for a plea deal in Multnomah County, Oregon. This decision is the direct result of reporting by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. These days, if a defendant pleads guilty to possession, the prosecutor has to have the field test results confirmed by a complete lab analysis before that plea can be accepted.
J.R. Ujifusa, the deputy district attorney who oversees drug prosecutions said:
Our DDAs [deputy district attorneys] are always looking to make sure we’re using the very best practices.
It sounds suspiciously like these people are actually seeking justice, A/K/A doing their job. Could it possibly be true? If so, prosecutors across the country should follow suit immediately. Their job is to protect the public from criminals and injustice. Jailing people and forcing them into plea deals enabled by a corrupt bail scheme and faulty drug field testing administered by police officers is a huge injustice.
However, there’s a missing component to this good news, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Courts across the country already do not accept these test kits as sufficient evidentiary proof that a piece of unidentified “stuff” is an illicit substance, so why should it be cause for someone to rot in a jail, lose their home, job, kids, and traumatize their family?
It is a good thing that there has been a rise in so-called conviction integrity units. These panels that look at a case post conviction resulted in nearly 150 exonerations nationwide in 2015. These exonerated people are probably eternally grateful to the folks who took another look at their case. But they shouldn’t have had a case in the first place. Even if they get a monetary settlement (many don’t), it’s too little, too late. The damage is done, they can never get those months, even years, back, or their spouse, or time with their children. All because someone couldn’t or didn’t want to do their job right.
It is disgraceful that a law enforcement officer can pull you over for a traffic violation, then decide based on his questionable “training and experience” that the chunk of donut glaze or food fragment on your floorboard requires field testing. Then, based on the false results of that test, you are locked in a concrete box where you will remain unless you can make bail or until results from a real lab come back.
Not accepting a plea until real results from an actual lab come back is a great start, but that missing component mentioned is the need for a different bail schedule or no bail at all for people caught up in the field testing travesty. Oregon is a state that does not allow independent bail bondsmen. They consider it to be kidnapping.
You have to give up what the court orders for bail. You can post a percentage of the bail, but it’s the judge who decides the bail amount. This bail amount can vary depending on the type of drug you’re suspected of possessing and your past record. For instance, if you have a violent incident on your record, it will increase the bail for your new charge. The same goes for a previous drug conviction.
As of this writing several calls to the Public Defender, Prosecutor, Sheriff and a few local attorneys resulted in no information on whether or not a different bail schedule will be adopted for defendants held on suspicion of drug possession based on field test kits.
As of 2015, the goal at the state crime lab was to have evidence tested within 30 days, but the average turnaround was 65 days. For many defendants, if you can’t afford bail, you are already living hand to mouth and 65 days in jail will effectively finish you off. You’ll be starting from scratch once you hit the street.
Other jurisdictions should be adopting this position and a new bail schedule to go with it, consisting of lowered bail or a citation scheme with no bail. Otherwise it’s just window dressing.