A recent in-depth ProPublica piece spotlights cheap chemical tests that police departments across the country use to establish probable cause for search/seizure and arrests in roadside drug stops.

The article makes a number of material points concerning that enforcement tool.

In doing so, it basically leads off with this fundamental preface: You get what you pay for.

In other words, a $2 departmental outlay on a chemical kit might produce a flatly flawed result just as easily as it can an accurate identification of unlawful drugs.

And that is deeply alarming, of course, for this reason: When a powder mixed into a pouch of chemicals is wrongly identified as heroin or cocaine, that botched evidence can yield the arrest and potential conviction of an innocent person.

How often does that happen?

Although it’s hard to state with certainty, multiple jurisdictions spanning the country have reportedly overturned convictions secured in recent years tied to the inexpensive kits. ProPublica reports that “there have been scores of wrongful arrests in every region of the United States.”

The salutary budget effects for police departments using the kits are clear, but arrests and convictions subsequently deemed problematic are clearly troubling. ProPublica stresses that courts over many years have considered the tests as legitimate tools for establishing probable cause, but routinely refuse to admit them as trial evidence.

A major maker of the kits concedes that they should never be construed “as a factor in the decision to prosecute or convict a suspect.”

Questions or concerns regarding any drug-tied criminal charge can be directed to an experienced and aggressive defense legal team.