Modern technology has blessed us with the ability to question law enforcement in more ways than ever before. We no longer need to “take their word for it”. For example, video cameras are on every cell phone. Videos of cops abusing citizens now have their own channels on YouTube.
Video may be the great equalizer, but another technological advancement that has contributed to our freedom is laboratory analysis. Yes, folks who have spent most of their adult lives in prison for rapes they did not commit, have been freed by the analysis of physical evidence years later (DNA, for example. I’ve written some articles about these tear jerking Shawshank stories, which you can find here).
But, what happens when the police do not utilize technology? What happens when the dash cam on the police car “isn’t working”, or “wasn’t turned on”? Unfortunately, what happens is that the police rely on their “training and experience”. Whenever you hear an officer utter the words “based upon my training and experience”, here’s the translation: “I’m about to make something up”, or, “I have no evidence to support what I’m about to say”. Lots of bad things happen when officers rely on their ‘training and experience’, rather than on science, or even good detective work. Orlando is seeing numerous arrests for possession of prescription medications, especially pain pills, and many of these folks have a valid prescription (who wants to carry around a bottle of 180 oxycodone’s when you can put a few in your pocket, men don’t have that carrying capacity in their jeans). Now, a simple call to the 24 hour Walgreens would solve the case, but the road patrol officers making these felony arrests are not interested in lifting a finger. One phone call is simply too much to ask. Arrest now, ask questions later. The taxpayers will pick up the bill, and never complain.
The lack of any sort of investigation on the part of law enforcement in drug cases is now at epidemic levels. And this brings us to the case of the day, Ashley Huff. She was arrested in Gainsville (GA) for possession of methamphetamine after permitting a search of her car. The search revealed a plastic baggie in her purse, with the name “Ashley” on it, plus a spoon was in the bag. Ah ha! A spoon! She must be cooking meth, right? Not only did they find a spoon, but the police indicated that Ashley began to get “nervous” when they found the spoon. Boy, I’m sure these officers thought they had a slam dunk felony drug case now. But wait, it gets better. The spoon had a “clear, crystal-like substance” on it. Guilty as charged, why even get the court system involved at this point? After all, ‘based on the officer’s training and experience’ the “clear, crystal-like substance” was methamphetamine.
Ashley explained to the officers that she was simply eating SpaghettiOs with the spoon. The officers didn’t care to check out her story. No prior record, mystery residue on a spoon, ‘hey, let’s boast our felony drug arrest numbers’… And, it gets worse.
In case you thought the police were the only ones to blame here, the court system is about to do it’s part to make matters worse. Upon release from jail, Ashley is ordered to seek drug counseling. Yes, you heard that right. Ashley is innocent until proven guilty, but being innocent isn’t enough to get you out of drug counseling. Can you believe our court system is ordering drug counseling within days of an arrest?
Ashley complied with the counseling as best she could, but couldn’t make all of her appointments–so she was re-arrested–and spent over a month in jail on the re-arrest, all for missing a few counseling appointments she didn’t need to begin with. Chalk up another victory for the war on drugs. Yes, this is our hard earned tax dollars paying for counseling that is absolutely worthless (in this case, anyway). Folks, this is happening non-stop, and teachers aren’t getting paid what they should so that the jail system can house people like Ashley for over a month.
Ok, the title of this “article” gives away the ending. No drugs were found on the spoon. The lab came back “spaghetti sauce”.
Ashley was telling the officers the truth, and her felony drug charges has been dismissed. Ashley has no prior record. Ashley spent over a month in jail. She lost her job. That being said, the lab did not confirm the sauce was actually SpaghettiO’s–they only found it to be spaghetti sauce. I’m surprised the lab found SpaghettiO’s sauce to meet the scientific, lab verified definition of “spaghetti sauce”. I’m not even sure the label on a can of SpaghettiO’s acknowledges that the can contains real spaghetti sauce. I just assumed it was some concoction of unknown (but tasty) origins (we still have no lab verification that Velveeta is “cheese”, but I don’t think they claim to be cheese).
The bottom line is this: law enforcement shouldn’t be allowed to arrest on drug residue cases without investigating first. Just about anything can have drug residue on it–the cash in your pocket probably has cocaine residue. Practically speaking, it has become almost illegal to own any sort of tobacco pipe, as law enforcement will assume you’re smoking crack or weed out of it, and they “always” find some sort of residue on the pipe to support their conclusion.
Drug residue cases are hard to prove, because the state cannot prove knowledge element. In these cases, the state must prove that the person “knew” the drugs were on the item, and there is a jury instruction regarding proof of knowledge. Without a confession, how would the state prove knowledge of methamphetamine on Ashley’s spoon? It can’t be proved. But, after seeing what happened to Ashley, by the time you’ve beaten the case–you’ve lost your job and reputation.