The police pull you over. They notice a white powder in the back seat of your car. You claim it must be laundry detergent from a bottle that had tipped over during a previous trip. The police claim it must be cocaine. Is it enough for the police to make an arrest based only on their presumption?

The answer is “no.” However, does that mean the police are required to take your word for what the substance might be? The answer to that is also “no.” So, how do the police decide to make an arrest for what they suspect are illegal drugs? The answer is drug field tests.

Drug field tests are used to establish probable cause

Drug field tests are cheap, simple tests. They’re designed to detect the presence of illegal substances. The results of these field tests are generally inadmissible in court. They are only suitable for establishing probable cause and for filing charges. A proper laboratory test must be performed on the substance if you decide to take your case to trial.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem with drug field tests is that they’re notoriously unreliable. According to a Vice News report, drug field tests have identified drywall, whey protein powder, and, yes, laundry detergent as cocaine.

You may be thinking that this is not the biggest deal. A lab will properly test the substance, right? Remember, this will only happen if your case goes to trial. The problem is many people feel compelled to plead guilty to avoid potentially harsh punishment. This means you could, in fact, find yourself with a criminal record for doing nothing more than your laundry.

If a drug field test is a basis for a criminal charge, you should never take those results at face value. You have rights and defenses against criminal charges are available. Discuss your options with a skilled legal professional.