Many police departments in Illinois and around the country equip their officers with portable drug-testing kits that are used to determine whether or not substances discovered in the field are illegal drugs. The kits are compact, inexpensive and easy to use, but they have been known to identify benign substances like baking soda and sugar as powerful Schedule I and Schedule II narcotics. Recent media reports suggest that this is what happened recently in South Carolina in a case involving Georgia Southern University starting quarterback Shai Werts.
Werts was pulled over by Saluda County Sheriff’s Office deputies on the night of July 31 for speeding, but he was charged with possession of a Schedule II drug after a white substance on the paintwork of his car was identified as cocaine by two portable drug-testing kits. Werts is heard telling the disbelieving deputies on footage recorded by police dashboard cameras that the substance in question was bird droppings, and subsequent testing conducted using more sophisticated methods appears to back him up.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division crime lab found no traces of cocaine in the sample collected from the quarterback’s car, and the drug possession charge against Werts has now been dropped. He will still have to pay a speeding ticket. The 21-year-old athlete was suspended following the incident, but he has since returned to the starting lineup. Werts picked up 987 yards with his arm and a further 908 on the ground during his breakout 2018 season.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may demand more rigorous testing when their clients face drug charges based on the results of field tests. Attorneys could also argue that suspects apprehended based solely on this kind of evidence should be released on their own recognizance until more reliable forensic tests have been completed.