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Diegnan, Greenstein Bill to Require Study on Collection of Drug Testing Evidence by Law Enforcement Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan and Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Linda Greenstein that would require the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences to conduct a six-month study on the collection, recording and analysis of data on specimens collected by law enforcement which may contain a controlled dangerous substance advanced out of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today.

“Questions have arisen over the integrity of the drug testing process used by law enforcement officers in the field,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This study will gives us some needed information about the frequency of false positives and whether the tests administered are accurate. Some reports suggest that error rates could be as high as 1 in 3. That is truly concerning.”

“We need to know if the drug tests conducted in the field are accurate,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer). “People’s lives are at stake here. We need accurate tests to make sure that people under the influence are not endangering the public, but on the other hand we also need to ensure that people not under the influence of a drug are not being falsely charged. According to recent press accounts, that may be occurring with great frequency.”

A 2016 ProPublica report found that half of the individuals wrongly charged after a false positive pleaded guilty and that the most commonly used tests didn’t include warnings about the high false-positive rate.

The bill, S-1779, would require the Office of Forensic Sciences to record the following information for each specimen:

  • the name of the agency and location where the specimen was obtained;
  • whether a drug field test was performed on the specimen and, if so, the result of the drug field test, the type of drug field test used and the name and manufacturer of the drug field test;
  • whether the specimen was analyzed in an Office of Forensic Sciences Laboratory;
  • whether the laboratory test indicates an erroneous drug field test result and the amount of time that elapsed between the drug field test and the laboratory test;
  • and whether the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences Laboratory test was expedited and the reason for expediting the test.

Within 90 days after the period of data collection ends, the Office of Forensic Sciences would be required to issue a report to the Legislature analyzing the data collected and would include, among other results, the incidence of false-positive drug field test results and whether there appear to be any trends related to the incidence of false-positive drug field test results based on the type of drug field test used, the location of the drug field test or any other information concerning the specimen.

The bill was passed out of committee by a vote of 5-0, and advances to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.