Bill Would Limit Use of Inaccurate Roadside Drug Tests and Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Special to the Vanguard

Sacramento, CA – A bill that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from making arrests or filing charges on the basis of a color-based (colorimetric) drug test—a problematic class of tests some jurisdictions use in the field to assess whether a substance contains an illegal drug, but which many jurisdictions have abandoned—has passed the Senate Public Safety Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener, does not ban the use of colorimetric tests; rather, it prevents officers and prosecutors from using them as the basis of arrest and charging decisions without verification by more accurate tests.

The bill passed 4-1 and heads next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Effective law enforcement means arresting people who’ve committed crimes and not arresting innocent people,” said Senator Wiener.

He explained, “It’s absurd that in 2024, we continue to allow law enforcement to arrest, prosecute, convict, and sentence people based on drug tests that are known to be inaccurate. The ROAD [Requiring Objective and Accurate Drug] Testing Act improves the integrity of our justice system by shifting us to a reliance on more accurate drug tests. I thank my colleagues for their support and look forward to pushing this bill across the finish line in the Senate.”

Senator Wiener’s office said that by preventing the improper use of these inaccurate tests, SB 912 eliminates “the use of what appears to be the nation’s leading cause of wrongful convictions from the California criminal legal system.”

They cite a new report released from the University of Pennsylvania’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice found that “colorimetric drug tests are the leading known cause of wrongful conviction in the country, contributing to 30,000 wrongful convictions each year nationwide.”

While some California jurisdictions have discontinued the use of these inaccurate tests, they remain in use in many jurisdictions.

Senator Wiener’s office said, “Of the 216,886 people arrested on drug charges in California each year, approximately 4,099 will be wrongfully arrested and charged based on the results of colorimetric drug tests.”

If passed, SB 912 would “preclude law enforcement agencies from using the results of a colorimetric field drug test to establish probable cause for arrest or the institution of charges for drug possession, conviction, or sentencing prior to a reliable confirmatory test from a crime laboratory. “

The bill is sponsored by the Roadside Drug Test Innocence Alliance.

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