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Diegnan Bill To Examine Usage & Reliability of Drug Field Tests Advances


TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. that would require the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences to collect data for six months to assess the use and reliability of drug field tests and to issue a report on evidence used in prosecuting certain drug-related crimes was approved today by the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee.

The bill, S-2930, would provide for the collection of data on specimens collected by law enforcement in New Jersey. The term “specimen” is defined in the bill as a substance or sample of a substance which may contain a controlled dangerous substance or a controlled substance analog that is taken by a law enforcement officer investigating a potential violation of chapter 35 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes.

“The accuracy and reliability of drug field tests has been brought into question, and the implications of any errors could mean the difference between an arrest and a release,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This bill will allow us to examine whether or not this is an issue in New Jersey, and possibly curb any unnecessary arrests.”

Under current law, specimens taken by law enforcement during the investigation of certain drug-related crimes are sent to one of four New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences laboratories in the State. In some cases, presumptive drug field tests are performed by officers, and a case is disposed of following a presumptive drug field test without undergoing confirmatory testing in an Office of Forensic Sciences Laboratory.

Various news reports across the country have suggested that reliance solely on drug field testing could lead to wrongful incarceration. For example, some field tests use a single tube of a chemical called cobalt thiocyanate, which turns blue when exposed to cocaine. But cobalt thiocyanate also turns blue when exposed to more than 80 other compounds, including methadone, certain acne medications and several common household cleaners.

Data concerning the reliability of drug field tests in New Jersey which would confirm or deny this claim is currently unavailable.

“Invalid results could mean individuals are incarcerated when they needn’t be, and this not only will have a devastating long-term impact on their lives but also on our economy and on taxpayers,” added Senator Diegnan.

Under the bill, the report concerning the usage and reliability of drug field tests in New Jersey must be issued within 90 days after the six-month data collection period ends.

The bill was approved by a vote of 4-0-1. It next heads to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee for consideration.