Legislation Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald and Assemblyman Daniel Benson sponsored to require the New Jersey State Police to study the methods law enforcement officers use to collect evidence related to drug crimes was advanced by an Assembly committee on Thursday.
The legislation follows a July 2016 New York Times Magazine article that highlighted cases of innocent people convicted of drug crimes due to inaccurate field drug tests.
“The notion that men and women may be going to prison for crimes they did not commit should disturb everyone in New Jersey,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “Collecting and analyzing data on field testing will allow the state to determine whether there’s a problem and, if necessary, to come up with a solution.”
Law enforcement agencies in New Jersey send the samples taken during the investigation of certain drug-related crimes to one of the state’s four Office of Forensic Sciences laboratories. In some cases, however, officers perform presumptive field tests and then dispose of the sample without undergoing confirmatory testing in an Office of Forensic Sciences laboratory.
“Our nation’s fundamental principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty requires us all to have faith that the evidence involved is accurate,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “The unfortunate truth is that anything from hand soap to laundry detergent can be mistaken for illegal drugs during a field test and ruin a person’s chances of pursuing higher education, finding a job or being present to raise his or her children. In order to maintain the integrity of New Jersey’s judicial system and keep innocent people out of prison, the state must collect and examine data on field tests.”
The bill (A-4073) would require the superintendent of the State Police to conduct a six-month study on the collection of drug evidence by law enforcement officers. The legislation calls for the Office of Forensic Sciences to record the following information for samples law enforcement collects:
- The name of the agency and location where the sample was obtained;
- Whether a field test was performed on the sample and if so:
- Whether the sample was analyzed in an Office of Forensic Sciences laboratory;
- For any specimen that was both field tested and analyzed in an Office of Forensic Sciences laboratory, whether the laboratory test indicates an erroneous field test result and the amount of time that elapsed between the two tests; and
- Whether the Office of Forensic Sciences laboratory test was expedited and the reason for expediting the test.
– the result of the field test;
– the type of field test used; and
– the name and manufacturer of the field test;
Within 90 days after the end of the six-month data collection period, the Office of Forensic Sciences would be required to issue a report to the legislature that includes a summary of the data, the incidence of false positive field test results and whether there seems to be a trend related to the incidence of false positive field test results based on the type of field test used, the location of the field test or any other information concerning the samples.
The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, of which Benson is chair.