Friday, December 30, 2005

Next time you fly, leave your flour-filled condoms at home.

From the Philly Inquirer comes news of a lawsuit filed by Janet Lee, a junior comparative lit major at Bryn Mawr, who was detained for three weeks after airline security found in her luggage three condoms full of ... flour.
"I haven't let myself be angry about what happened, because it would tear me apart," Lee said. "I'm not sure I can bear to face it... . I'm amazed at how naive I was."
Under a justice system that is truly just, demonstrable innocence would guarantee exoneration from any criminal accusation. Unfortunately, as Lee points out, the view that our own justice system rises to that standard of truly just is simply "naive."

The troubling question here is, why did the police lab results repeatedly test positive for the presence of any illegal drug at all--much less three!--when none were present? As Ellen Green-Crysler, former director of the Philadelphia PD's Office of Integrity and Accountability put it:
"The whole issue will come down to the field test. Was the officer trained? Was the test contaminated?"
The issue does rest on why the results on Lee's flour came back wrong on three separate trials. Either the officer conducting the test was incompetent or the testing equipment itself was off, through contamination or miscalibration. But a prison guard why took sympathy on Lee and her plight, offered another possible reason for the errors:
A prison guard recognized her from a Bryn Mawr volunteer job at Overbrook High School and took pity on her. The guard told Lee that she believed her and that the whole thing was probably racial.
Look, it's understandable that police would initially look skeptically on Lee's explanation for the condoms full of white powder. So it's not unreasonable that they would want to run some tests. But when a substance that contains no illegal drug at all returns a false positive result on repeated trials, none of the available explanations do much to inspire confidence in the government's chances of winning its War on Drugs.

If the equipment was to blame, then how many others have been falsely accused based on tests using the same bad equipment? If the officers conducting the tests simply weren't competent to follow the proper lab procedures, again, how many others have been falsely accused? Or could the fixing of the results have been deliberate? For their part, Philadelphia PD hasn't had much at all to say on the matter. It'll be interesting to see what facts eventually come out in this most unusual case.

5 comments:

800 pound gorilla said...

Well, we all know that 98% of all crimes have been committed by people who have had bread within 12 hours of the commission of crimes. And we all know that flour is THE gateway substance to make bread - which is involved in all those crimes. This study has been published in the mass media without scrutiny, hasn't it? They publish all the tests that don't meet scientific standards justifying the criminalization of other drugs.

Stalin's Ghost said...

The solution is obvious: criminalize the possession (and sale!) of flour in unauthorized containers. To the Gulag with you, Ms. Lee.

Stalin's Ghost said...

...to anyone with a broken Sarcasm-o-meter...the above was sarcasm...hold your fire...please.

Jesse Stout said...

The article mentions it's unusual for a test to return results of three drugs, not one, because people don't mix drugs. This reminds me of another recent MAPinc story (prev. post) where a teenager was told his cannabis was laced with heroin after law enforcement officers tested it on equipment that had been contaminated by other drugs. Shame on our authorities for locking up another innocent person.

susank said...

The field tests are designed to come back positive, since they are what give "authorities" probable cause for arrest and detention.
However, the true moral of the story: doing community service makes you more likely to be taken seriously by a prison guard. Does membership in this group count?