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Drug-testing kit is source of appeals

Posted October 4, 2010

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— The State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab remains under fire after an independent audit questioned evidence analyzed by agents. Now, defense attorneys are going after evidence analysis linked to a private company in the Triangle.

Morrisville-based NarTest sells drug-testing equipment to state law enforcement. The company's device uses multiple sources of fluorescent light to identify cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamine.

"You don't have to be a chemist to do this. You don't have to be a forensic scientist,” said Trot Raney, a forensic chemist with NarTest and a retired SBI agent.

With less than a dozen clients so far, including the Harnett County Sheriff's Department, NarTest sells its testing equipment and trains law enforcement to identify illegal drugs without going to outside labs.

“They don't have to send them out. They don't have to wait. They can know the day of the arrest what they have,” NarTest manager Kimberly Fink said.

What they have, however, remains the big question.

A cocaine possession conviction in Onslow County sent John Kennedy Meadows to prison as a habitual felon for a minimum of 10 years. When the state Court of Appeals questioned the accuracy of Nartest's machine, he was able to win a new trial.

“There's a real risk here that someone could get convicted on unreliable evidence,” Fayetteville defense attorney Paul Herzog said.

NarTest machine Reliability of drug-testing device questioned

Herzog represents Larry Dean Smith, one of at least five other drug defendants to get new trials because of disputed drug testing.

“He was convicted by using a technology that's not been proved to be scientifically reliable at this time. So, he deserves a new trial,” Herzog said.

Because of appellate court decisions and uncertainty about the science, most lower courts won't admit NarTest identified narcotics. The company compares the dispute to Breathalyzers that were questioned for years, yet are now regularly admitted in drunken driving cases.

To fight the stigma, NarTest often runs back-up tests using more traditional technology. The company wants to train prosecutors better to explain the drug testing in court.

Fink says she wants the science explored in court “so that if the case does get appealed, we can actually get a ruling on the science.”

Until Nartest can be proven by independent testing, attorneys representing drug defendants will continue to be skeptical.

“We don't know whether this is real science or not," Herzog said.

12 Comments

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  • boatrokr Oct 6, 2010

    The war on drugs is a waste of money. End it, free up prison space for violent criminals, and tax the stuff. We already have laws in place for crimes committed under the influence.

  • Sherlock Oct 5, 2010

    ghimmy51 thanks, I agree with you.

  • keneds Oct 5, 2010

    guess this is another reason to let everyone out of prison and start over......seems like everyone is screaming " I was framed ".....so what do we do?? we say oh of course you get another trial..Im not blaming LEO it goes way higher that that

  • commonsence Oct 5, 2010

    here is a thought, why not use the device to screen, and once you have a positive from the device, then back it up with a test that is accpeted,, once a track record of reliabilty has been proven,you have data to back up the new device, then maybe it can stand on it's own merit.

  • ghimmy51 Oct 5, 2010

    Law enforcement organizations are just as gullible as the rest of us about new gadgets. I remember some guy trying to sell a device to find bodies in water. It was a color depth sounder with video screen and two transducers for a wider beam. It was also beaucoup thousands of $$$. I happened to be there and up on the technology and put in my $0.02 worth. No sale. Major806 .. "real science" is the best independently REPRODUCIBLE data available at any given time. If that device produces the same result with different operators as chemical/spectrographic analysis then it's reliable science. If not ...

  • Inter Alios Oct 5, 2010

    Just another piece of junk pseudo-science the police and Nar-Test profiteers want to use to spit in the eye of judges and juries in an effort to convince them it's raining. Its pretty obvious most of the posters here are either police or employees of Nar-Test.

  • Sherlock Oct 4, 2010

    Most lawyers (Defense) will go against anything that will give them in edge, most lawyers are not smart enough to understand what the NarTest can do. What is real science anyway.

  • marcpjones Oct 4, 2010

    what does this story have to do with the headline? minimal at best.

  • illegals--GO HOME Oct 4, 2010

    It is just an excuse to try to get a criminal off on a technicality. The tests will be proven reliable and this will all go away.

  • bcarrol Oct 4, 2010

    Mr Herzog might not know if this is real science or not, but fluorescence, the foundation of this technology, has been observed for thousands of years and the theory and application of fluorescence are taught to thousands of chemistry students and used by thousands of scientists every year. A pretty overwhelming blow to his claim about whether or not this technology is "real science".

    The NarTest device is a qualitative instrument which serves as a chemical detector, but does not determine the amount of the drug present. It is used for on-the-spot detection of illegal drugs for the purpose of arrest. Any prosecutor can get a chemist to easily describe this technology for a jury. The NarTest device is pretty simple so I think it will be hard for defense attorneys to try to discredit its role in law enforcement.

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