COMMENTARY: Drug Tests May Need Judicial Review

KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor

There may be a flaw in the local criminal justice system.

Drug tests administered to probation violators and other defendants in local courts could be returning inaccurate results.

As a result, innocent people may be going to jail.

The possible problem came to light last week in Cannon County General Sessions Court when a pregnant woman seeking furlough had two court-ordered drug tests return positive for methamphetamine.

Because of the positive showings for drugs, Judge Susan Melton denied the furlough request.

Upon her return to the Cannon County Jail, the expectant mother was given a third urine drug test, and the results of that one were negative.

She was then taken to Stones River Hospital, where blood was drawn for additional testing. Results from blood tests are considering to provide more accurate results.

Friday, the results of the blood test came back, and they were negative. No trace of any of seven drugs tested for were found in the blood of the defendant.

Judge Melton immediately granted a furlough for the expectant mom, who is scheduled to have her baby delivered by C-section on April 13.

But the situation raises an important question: how accurate are the urine tests being administered in court?

A drug screen is ordered for every defendant who is in court for violation of probation as a matter to procedure. That's not surprising, considering that many of the defendants are on probation because they committed some type of drug offense.

And it does not surprise me when a probation violator fails a test, given how difficult it is for most drug users to kick the habit. If they fail the test, they go directly to jail.

A judge can only act on the information which if presented to them, so it is imperative to make sure the evidence is accurate, especially when a person's freedom depends on it.

In the case of the pregnant mom, she did not fail the drug test, the drug test failed her. Local Public Defender Ken McKnight says its not the first time this situation has occurred in the local judicial system, which includes Rutherford County.

However, if justice is to be served properly, everything that can be done to assure that it doesn't happen, should be.