It would seem simple to say, but an important aspect of defending a drug possession or narcotic possession criminal allegation is attacking the identification of a drug. Identification is not as simple as one might suspect. Simply looking at a drug may be enough for a user on the street, it just doesn't make sense to have it sent in for laboratory testing, as it could cause a person to be arrested. Drug dealers have the underhand, and have for may years sold fake drugs, diluted or stomped on versions of drugs, or look-alike type of substances that are not even drugs.
However, the court of law requires the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This means they will sent it in to be analyzed by laboratories, and ask the individual to state their opinion on where it was an illegal substance. However, there is more to identification than one would believe. Machines, chemicals, interpretations, and methods all come into question.
If you are going to hire an attorney to defend you against a narcotics possession case, and the suspected illegal substance has been tested by a lab, you should hire an attorney that is qualified to cross examine the person, the human being, who performed the testing and is stating their opinion and the basis on which they formed it to the court, and/or jury in your case.
Jonathan Rooker is at the forefront of attorneys who believe science is important, in fact, vital for an effective defense of a client in any case that involves or potentially involves the use of science by the prosecution and/or defense. Jonathan has completed Mastering Scientific Evidence Seminar in New Orleans in March of 2014. He has also completed the Basic Reserve Police Academy Level III. Jonathan has traveled to Chicago's Prestigious Axion Laboratories and completed classroom and practical Laboratory training in Gas Chromatography and Solid Drug Identification. These Courses account for half the requirements to become a designated as a "Lawyer-Scientist" by the American Chemical Society, the highest f He is nearly Completed his course work for a Masters Degree in Forensic Toxicology. As of today's date there are only 18 American Chemical Society Chemistry and Law Division Lawyer Scientists in the Nation. There is only one listed in California. Jonathan expects to complete this exceptional achievement within the 2015 calendar year!
How do they identify drug?
There are several methods. The scientific working group for seized drugs identification headed by the DEA has listed various methods as acceptable, and classified them according to the value. Class A is the best, then B, then Class C.
1. Infrared Spectroscopy
2. Mass Spectrometry
3. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
4. Raman Spectroscopy
5. X-ray Diffractometry
1. Capillary Electrohoresis
2. Gas Chromatography
3. Ion Mobility Spectrometry
4. Liquid Chromatography
5. Microcrystalline Tests
6. Pharmaceutical Identifiers
7. Thin Layer Chromatography
8. Macroscopic Examination / Microscopic Examination
1. Color Tests
2. Fluorescence Spectroscopy
4. Melting Point
5. Ultraviolet Spectroscopy
It stands to reason that there are multiple tests that should be performed before we decide we are dealing with a drug of any sort, especially if it is an illegal substance and a person's freedom and liberty is involved. Often, the labs just send back non-specific tests such as immunoassay test results and claim they found a drug. Fact is, the chemical process is not unique for any drug or substance, it merely involves a persons interpretation of a color that is or is not present after adding a chemical to an unknown substance. Even more specific tests, such as infrared Spectroscopy or Mass Spectrometry need to be reviewed by a qualified defense attorney to see if there was a miss-identification of the substance, which can easily occur. Lab protocols, methods, and human error are all possibilities. According to SWGDRUG, no single test, and as many as 3 separate tests may be needed before the presence of a substance is confirmed.
COMMON TESTS USED TO IDENTIFY CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES
There are several methods used to attempt to identify whether or not a suspect substance is a controlled substance or not. Weight is important in most cases, therefore the substance is placed on a scale to determine the weight. This is not as simple as one might suspect. Removing a substance from its packaging can present issues of both loss of substance, and contamination within the laboratory. Contamination from a prior substance may also be present, and later have an effect on testing conducted thereafter.
Microscopic Examination can also be used. This is common with Marijuana and Cannabinoids to see if THC is present and/or the composition of the structure. Any Drug Crime Defense Attorney should posses the knowledge, skill, and education to properly cross examine a states expert as to the identification of a possible controlled substance by a microscopic Examination.
Microchemical Color Tests, commonly performed using kits provided in pre-packaged kits such as NIK Kits are used. However, the process can be be inexact, as the chemical process to produce a color is dependent on many factors come into play before a proper identification of the a controlled substance can be made. Even then, the identification is just a presumptive, and a confirmation will be needed before any appreciable level of certainty can be ascertained. There are also human factors such as contamination, interpretation of color, and bias.
Thin Layer Chromatography is another test used to identify substances that may be suspected of being an illegal narcotic. Thin Layer Chromatography involves putting a small amount of a substance into a vial with an extraction substance, such as Methanol. Then, using a small amount for testing.
Melting Point Identification is a fairly broad method. It simply heats up a substance to see what temperature a substance melts at. Substances melt at specific temperatures, but specific temperatures may not be specific melting points for substance. More than one substance may melt at any specific temperature, making such an identification subject to mistaken identification.
There are also several methods which use instruments to identify potential controlled substances. Gas Chromatography combined with Mass Spectrometry is one of the most specific, when done properly. Gas Chromatography involves separating molecules, or organic volatile substances. This is performed using a chromatograph. The substance is identified by its particular elution time. The molecules that are separated are then weighed by Mass Spectrometry, which measures the weight of each molecule and its fragments. An identification can then be made with some degree of certainty. Flame Ionizaton Detectors can also be used to measure the substances as it exits the chromatograph. Other methods such as High Performance Liquid Chromatography or Liquid Chromatography with a tandem Mass Spectrometry are also used. A separate type of test is the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) which identifies how infrared light waves react to a substance.
Presumptive vs. Confirmatory Tests:
What are presumptive tests and why are they called presumptive?
A presumptive test is a test that is sensitive, in that it can rule out the presence of a substance by failing to react or show its presence, however, it can not identify the presence of a substance. They are useful for narrowing down what substances or classes of substances may be involved in a suspected drug case. They are prone to false positive identifications which occur more often than some scientists or lab techs would like to admit. They are also prone to contamination as well. For instance the cocaine molecule is very small, and highly likely to contaminate any area where a bag is emptied into a scale for measurement of weight. Other presumptive tests are Microchemical color test, TLC, Microscopic, FID, Melting point and Cobalt Thiocyanate.
In particular Cobalt Thiocyanate turns blue with cocaine, as well as lidocaine, Acetaminophen, and Dephenhydramine. Imagine being arrested and charged with a possession of Cocaine when in fact you only had Tylenol? Using the Cobalt Thiocyanate test, that would likely occur. Which is the reason confirmation of a positive is needed to have significant value in identification of an unknown substance as a controlled substance or illegal drugs.
There are certain tests that are commonly used in combination.
The Color Tests along with GC/MS.
Color Tests and FTIR
GC/MS and TLC
GC/MS and GC/FID
Pharmaceutical ID and GC/MS
Microscopic, Color, and GC/MS
GC/MS and LC/MS
GC/MS and HPLC
These are done in order to confirm or disprove the presence of a controlled substance, narcotic, or illegal drug.
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