Salt Lake Criminal Defense Attorney Utah
Call Criminal Defense Attorney in Utah
Call Utah Criminal Lawyer
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys / Former Prosecutors
Call 801-449-1409 now to see what our team can do for you.
Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer Salt Lake City

Criminal Defense Solutions Start HereSM

Finding a Felony Defense LawyerChoosing a Misdemeanor Defense LawyerDrug and Alcohol Crimes Defense LawyerWhite Collar Defense Attorney for Utah ChargesAttorney for Expungements Reductions and PardonsDefendant Constitutional Rights Criminal LawyerBail and Bond Alternatives in UtahReasons for Hope Facing Criminal Charges


Roadside Drug Testing Reliability in Utah

Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer - Drug CasesThe incidents described below have been reported by media in other states and raise important issues concerning presumptive field tests used by police to attempt to identify illegal drugs. These same methods and procedures are often used by Utah law enforcement officers. If you are facing prosecution for drug crimes or other offenses in Utah, contact us today to see what the right criminal defense attorney can do for you.

Are roadside drug tests (field tests) reliable?

Posted November 20, 2017

In December 2015, a driver was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. During the stop, the police officer noticed some crystal flakes of the floor of the car. The driver insisted that the crystals were just flakes of glaze from a Krispy Kreme doughnut. The officer with her years of training and experience, didn’t buy it. Believing the substance was “some sort of narcotic,” police officers used a roadside test kit to test the substance, and the results came up positive for methamphetamine. The driver was arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine.

Evidence gathered from the car was sent for further testing at the state's crime lab. These results vindicated the driver - showing that the crystalline flakes were not a controlled substance.

In a similar and more recent incident, another driver who was employed as a handyman was pulled over for driving without headlights. Police saw on the floor of the car some white dust. The driver knew the substance was simply drywall dust, but officers were still suspicious and tested the substance with a field test kit. Results showed positive for cocaine. The driver was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine.

Inexpensive field tests like the ones used by police in these two cases are used by police departments around the country. Mounds of evidence show these tests routinely produce false positives and are far from reliable. They appear to be simple, but a lot can go wrong. An investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times found that tens of thousands of people are sent to jail based on the results of a roadside drug test.

“Some tests…use a single tube of a chemical called cobalt thiocyanate, which turns blue when it is exposed to cocaine. But cobalt thiocyanate also turns blue when it is exposed to more than 80 other compounds, including methadone, certain acne medications and several common household cleaners. Other tests use three tubes, which the officer can break in a specific order to rule out everything but the drug in question — but if the officer breaks the tubes in the wrong order, that, too, can invalidate the results. The environment can also present problems. Cold weather slows the color development; heat speeds it up, or sometimes prevents a color reaction from taking place at all.”

Despite the many problems with using these roadside test kits, police departments continue to use them. Many people are charged with drug possession based on field test results as evidence.

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Utah

Utah Criminal Lawyer in Salt Lake CityThe fact that an officer sees something that "looks like" drugs (a white crystalline substance, a powdery residue, a green leafy substance, etc.) does not necessarily mean that what the officer sees is in fact a controlled substance. Looks can be deceiving - the picture at the top of this article is actually just ordinary table salt.

IF you have been cited, arrested, or charged for drug-related charges in Utah based on the results of a preliminary field test performed by a police officer, there may be a number of potential defenses available to you. Contact us today to see the difference an experienced criminal defense attorney can make in your case.


Best Rating
Make a Payment to Your Account
Get Help Now
Name: Email: Phone: Describe your legal needs here:
I accept the disclaimer below.
Disclaimer: No attorney-client relationship is established by the use of this form. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be submitted through this form. By clicking 'submit' I am only requesting that I be contacted for the purpose of obtaining legal services.

This form protected by reCAPTCHA.

  • Selected Victories
  • Criminal Defense AttorneyDismissed - Contractor was charged with theft by deception for allegedly misusing customer funds and failing to complete work that had been agreed upon. A successful motion to quash on legal grounds following the bindover order at preliminary hearing resulted in a complete dismissal of all charges.
  • Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Utah Dismissed - Client was facing multiple cases involving first-degree felony drug distribution charges for allegedly selling to a confidential informant. Defense analysis of the case revealed fatal flaws in the prosecution case that ultimately resulted in a complete dismissal of all cases and charges.
  • Utah Expungement Attorney Salt Lake Davis Expunged - Client with prior conviction for violent felony was ineligible for expungement through the courts. A successful 2-step reduction restored expungement eligibility and ultimately led to the court's decision to grant the requested expungement.
  • Violent Crimes Assalt Defense UtahProbation - Client charged with aggravated robbery based on allegations he entered a store with a gun and mask and demanded cash. Client confessed to police before hiring a defense attorney. Defense mitigation efforts resulted in a negotiated resolution that removed life in prison as a possibility, and secured a probation sentence from the court.
  • Recent Posts
  • What Constitutes Drug Parpahernalia in Utah How is drug paraphernalia defined in Utah? - The definition of drug paraphernalia under the Utah criminal code looks at both the nature of the object and also the intended use of the object in question. . . .
  • Utah Misdemeanor Attorney Salt Lake Can I handle a Utah misdemeanor from out-of-state? - Even if you do not intend to take your case to trial, a misdemeanor criminal offense in Utah can require multiple court appearances to reach a resolution. If you have been charged with a crime in Utah, but are not a Utah resident, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you resolve the case without returning to the state. . . .
Best Criminal Defense Strategy

You want the best defense. Agressive is good. But results ultimately are what really matter. Creating an effective strategy for defending against criminal prosecution requires a thorough understanding of statutes, case law, and evidentiary and procedural rules. A successful outcome is more likely when....

Strategy »
Salt Lake Criminal Defense Attorney Profile Utah

With decades of combined experience, our criminal defense team attorneys have the knowledge, skill, and determination to help you achieve the results you need. Facing criminal prosecution in Utah can have serious consequences. Choosing the best attorney to defend your case may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make....

Experience »
Conviction Consequences - Utah Criminal Defense

Even a "minor" misdemeanor carries the potential for jail time and significant fines. The direct penalties and collateral consequences of a felony conviction are even more severe. Understanding these consequences is critical as you make decisions relating to your case. Even in a misdemeanor case, you should not....

Consequences »
Criminal Defense Attorney in Utah - Reasons to Hope

Clients sometimes ask what the "worst case scenario" is for their charges. We prefer to take a more positive approach. Facing criminal prosecution in Utah can have serious consequences. But you can take steps and make choices right now that will improve your chances of a positive outcome. Let us help you....

Reasons to Hope »
Home | Attorney Profile | Case Results | Criminal Code | FAQ | Legal Resources | Defense Strategy | Contact Us

Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

The materials in this website are intended for informational purposes only, and are not legal advice. Viewing or responding to materials in this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. Read Full Disclaimer.