A New York couple spent nearly a month in jail after a Pennsylvania state trooper mistakenly identified two bricks of homemade soap for cocaine.
Annadel Cruz and Alexander Bernstein spent one month in a Pennsylvania jail while their soap was tested for cocaine. They were released when the laboratory test results revealed the soap to be free of illegal drugs:
"The trooper said he stopped the car on Interstate 78 because Cruz was driving five miles per hour above the posted speed limit and "hugging the side of the lane," as the Allentown Morning Call put it. Bernstein's lawyer thinks it is more likely that the trooper's suspicions were aroused by the sight of a young Latina driving a new Mercedes-Benz with out-of-state plates. After pulling over the car, in which Bernstein was a passenger, the trooper claimed to smell marijuana, and Cruz confessed she had smoked pot before leaving New York City. Then the trooper asked if he could search the car, and Cruz supposedly said yes."
Field tests for drugs are notoriously unreliable, mistaking common products such as soap, deodorant, billiard chalk, tea, breath mints, and chocolate for illicit substances. Yet police across the country continue to use these kits as a basis for locking people up. Bail for Cruz and Bernstein was set at $250,000 and $500,000, respectively. "After this," says Cruz's lawyer, "everyone should pause about jumping to conclusions when a field test is said to be positive by law enforcement. There are people going to jail on high bail amounts based upon these field tests."
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