Attorney working to ban field drug test kits in Pinellas, Pasco

Field Reagent Tests are no longer in the tool kit for Houston police. They made the bold move two weeks ago.
Could Pinellas and Pasco counties be the next to ban the drug field test kits?

That's exactly what Attorney Gretchen Cothron is fighting for.

"It's wrong and it's a violation of the constitution," said Cothron.

Gretchen works for the Public Defenders Office in Pinellas and Pasco counties. She's based out of Dade City and she is in a big legal tussle there to get presumptive tests thrown out as evidence.

"Let's use these cheap, $2 tests to arrest people, hold them in jail, and prosecute them without proving the evidence," Cothron said, seeming to question the practice.

But a Pinellas Assistant State Attorney argues the field reagent test and the arresting officer's opinion is sufficient evidence to prosecute a drug case; no need for a confirmation test by a crime lab.

"If its pot, it's pot. Prove it's pot before you charge the person, before you prosecute that person," said Cothron.

For the last few years, FOX 13 has heard from victims, from sheriffs, from judges and scientists who showed us how unreliable field drug test kits can be. Even manufacturer SafariLand Group, which makes the test kits, says the test should be the last item to be checked off the probable cause list, not the first, second or even third.

Another manufacturer, Sirchie agrees.

"Users of our kits run into stuff that mimics or duplicate positive reactions all the time," the company said.

Everyday items like coffee, chocolate, over the counter medications, and even air tested positive for drugs.

Gretchen, who has been championing civil rights issues for years, won't stop until the field drug test kits are off the street and out of the courtroom.

"They wouldn't charge someone with murder without knowing that someone was killed without a body, but here that's what they're doing," explained Cothron.