Man Gets Three Months for Possession of Breath Mints

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

It’s a bit odd how often narco field testing kits turn back false positives. In the past, we’ve seen chocolate chip cookies, deoderant, billiards chalk, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap come back positive, all causing undeserved, firsthand familiarity with the criminal justice system for the owners of the innocuous substances.

Looks like we can now add breath mints to the list.

A man is suing the Kissimmee Police Department for an arrest over mints. When officers pulled Donald May over for an expired tag, they thought the mints he was chewing were crack and arrested him.

May told Eyewitness News they wouldn’t let him out of jail for three months until tests proved the so-called drugs were candy…

May was pulled over for an expired tag on his car. When the officer walked up to him, he noticed something white in May’s mouth. May said it was breath mints, but the officer thought it was crack cocaine.

“He took them out of my mouth and put them in a baggy and locked me up [for] possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence,” May explained.The officer claimed he field-tested the evidence and it tested positive for drugs.

The officer said he saw May buying drugs while he was stopped at an intersection. He also stated in his report May waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily admitted to buying drugs.

May said that never happened.”My client never admitted he purchased crack cocaine. Why would he say that?” attorney Adam Sudbury said.

May was thrown in jail and was unable to bond out for three months. He didn’t get out until he received a letter from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office that test results showed no drugs were found.

“While I was sitting in jail I lost my apartment. I lost everything,” he said.

While May was in jail, the police department also auctioned off his car.

Last March, the Marijuana Policy Project announced the results of some lab testing they’d hired an expert to conduct on some of the more commonly used field tests, and found that patchouli, spearmint, and eucalyptus all tested positive for marijuana on one test kid, while an incredible 33 of 42 innocuous substances tested on another came back positive, including vanilla, anise, chicory, and peppermint.

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69 Responses to “Man Gets Three Months for Possession of Breath Mints”

  1. #1 |  I Callahan | 

    Let me see if I’m following this right.

    Man gets pulled over after buying drugs. The man arrested says they were breath mints. A pro legalization group shares the results of a set of tests they commissioned themselves, proving that innocuous substances can sometimes show positive for drugs.

    And this means that the motorist is automatically in the clear, and that we should automatically be suspicious of the police? Doesn’t this seem a bit of a stretch?

    There is NO MENTION of the ACTUAL test results of these particular “breath mints”. The linked story completely neglected this key piece of evidence.

    Just because you want to believe the police are at fault and the man is innocent, it doesn’t make it so.

  2. #2 |  Radley Balko | 

    -1 for reading comprehension.

    He didn’t get out until he received a letter from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office that test results showed no drugs were found.

    That’s not only from the linked article, it’s actually from the portion I excerpted.

  3. #3 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Interesting – I emailed Eric Rice at the U of Fl (mentioned above) to ask if he used to work at Kissimmee, and he said “no”. I’m wondering where this guy ran off to. May’s lawyers are wondering the same thing.

  4. #4 |  hamburglar007 | 

    It’s pretty easy to figure out the cop was full of shit. If the officer of the law actually suspected it was crack he just swallowed, it would have been off to the hospital. Mind you not out of concern for the suspect’s safety (despite what they might claim in situations like this), but they don’t want to lose that evidence.

  5. #5 |  JS | 

    Matt D “#32–
    I’m not sure why you think it’s so crazy. The civil rights division is already tasked with investigating local and state police misconduct. I’m just saying that we should ramp up that enforcement.”

    I wasn’t making fun of you brother, I totally agree that we should, I was laughing at the idea of anyone in our government actually being willing to do so.

  6. #6 |  max | 

    One problem with suing the test kit manufacturer is that it is about as likely that a properly used test kit would produce a false positive from breath mints as it was that May would mistake his breath mints (actually Chiclets TM) for crack.

    If we are to believe Officer Rice’s affidavits the scenario is that May bought them thinking they were crack cocaine, when pulled over for his expired registration attempted to swallow the fake crack, May waived his Miranda rights and admitted what he had in his mouth (he thought) was crack,then Officer Rice tested the one portion of the fake crack which would test positive in a field testing unit, none of the remaining fake crack was identifiable in a lab as having cocaine. Not entirely impossible but so improbable that I’ll bet the Cubs win the world series before that set of circumstances repeats.

  7. #7 |  OneByTheCee | 

    #6 | Michael Chaney
    #16 | Some Guy
    #19 | Dr X

    I too, went to the Kissimee PD FaceBook link and I found this:

    Kissimmee Police Department: Kissimmee Police Participate in “Operation Chill”

    “Operation Chill® was developed by 7-Eleven to positively reward and encourage good behavior by kids during the hot summer months … explains department spokesperson, Stacie Miller, “our officers use the Slurpee® coupons as an ice breaker with kids… Each officer has different ways for the children to earn Slurpee® coupons. Some will give a child a coupon for wearing their bicycle helmet or for answering a safety related question correctly.” OR: “Others require the children to bring them their report cards, or to see a passing grade on a test when school is in session.”

    How many parents out there, would approve of your children showing their report card to some stranger cop for anything?

    Operation Chill(ing) is more appropriate.

  8. #8 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    Could it be that these ‘field tests’ for drugs are simply pure bullshit and exist only to provide a cop with an excuse to run someone in?

    Could such a thing happen in America?

    Maybe. I seem to recall that the Breathalyzer has been proven to be less than infallible.

  9. #9 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #58 Steamed McQueen

    Could it be that these ‘field tests’ for drugs are simply pure bullshit and exist only to provide a cop with an excuse to run someone in?

    Yeah, for times when their lyin’ drug sniffing dog is unavailable.

  10. #10 |  sam | 

    For some reason, this fiasco reminds me of something I heard years ago (in the late 60s). Seems these two LA County Sheriff narcs were detailed to go undercover on the Sunset Strip. They dressed in what they thought was the appropriate attire to blend in with the hippies. Needless to say, their outfits were pretty lame. So there they are, dressed in some caricature of hipness, moving through the hirsute throngs trying to arrange a drug deal. The kids twigged instantly to the undercover bullshit and shied away from them. The sheriffs did get busted by the LAPD, however.

  11. #11 |  Mike | 

    The even wierder thing to me is the civil lawsuit states it was bubble gum NOT a breath mint that was confiscated.

    I could possibly see a breath mint (an altoid most likely) being confused for crack without any testing. But gum? Now perhaps my inexperience with crack is showing here but I’m pretty sure crack isn’t chewy/squishy

  12. #12 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    So in the new USSA, having a government job is one of the safest and best careers. But, providing shit that don’t work to the government is still pretty darn good too.

  13. #13 |  seeker6079 | 

    “Could it be that these ‘field tests’ for drugs are simply pure bullshit and exist only to provide a cop with an excuse to run someone in?”


    This has been Simple Answers to Straightforward Questions. Thanks for tuning in, and see you next time!

    And, lord, there will definitely be a next time.

  14. #14 |  seeker6079 | 

    The commenters upthread which discussed the civil rights division and conservatives forgot one key thing:
    Authoritarian conservatives hate the very idea of enforceable civil rights, period. The colour of the person is often secondary to them, because the very concept of “citizen” (with its pile of rights and freedoms) is odious to them and detrimental to their objectives.

    It’s one of the interesting things, viewed from the outside. When liberals get pushy with the power of the state it’s generally on matters of economic freedom: citizen loses right A to do thing B with property C. When conservatives get pushy with the power of the state it’s on the mores serious matters of social freedom and, under the Bushies, freedom itself.

  15. #15 |  Jim Collins | 

    Welcome to the world of criminal science. Drug tests that give false positives are the norm. I recall reading that in Austrailia a few years ago a man being charged with DUI stated in court that the breathalyzer test he was given gave a false positive because of an ice cream sundie that he ate prior to the test. The Judge made the Police bring in the exact breathalyzer that he was tested with. The man brought in the same ice cream sundie that he ate that day. They tested the man first and the reading was 0.00. He ate the sundie and waited 1/2 hour and then was retested. He blew a 0.10. The Judge dismissed the case.

    It was mentioned here about filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug test. Good luck! I’ll bet that the small print on the instructions states that the test is only to be used to determine the presense of drugs, that a proper chemical analysis of the substance should be performed before making a final determination.

    Oh! By the way, there isn’t a breathalyzer out there that is warranted for detecting and measuring the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath.

  16. #16 |  Staatspolizei und Pfefferminz | ars libertatis | 

    […] Monate im Gefängnis gesessen, weil er ein Pfefferminzbonbon gekaut hat.1 Radley Balko – Man Gets Three Months for Possession of Breath Mints [↩] « Judge Napolitano über den Unterschied zwischen dem Staat und der […]

  17. #17 |  Open Thread « Drug WarRant | 

    […] gets three months in jail for possession of breath mints. Yeah, I’d sue, […]

  18. #18 |  nhop | 

    I saw this police report on their facebook page:

  19. #19 |  Rich Moore | 

    The filthy cop in this case is like most cops: They LIE all day long and expect to get away with it. The cop in this case did NOT do any tests…he just saw a quick bust and did not care if the substance was illegal or not. It got a citizen behind bars…and the scumbag cop gets a pat on his pock marked back for making a bust.

    The cop should be sued, indicted for false arrest and for lying on the report, and sent to prison for…oh, say, about 5 years…with the hardest cons there are. Maybe then the filth would see that we are not all going to accept being a victim of police misconduct.

    If cops were required to tell the truth, they would fall apart. They simply do not know how to uphold the law without dirty tricks and lies.

    If a cops mouth is open, he is lying. That is a given. Now, for justice, the cop should lose all he has….pension, home, savings…and sent to the big house as well. Then maybe, just maybe, other filthy lying cops would see that there ARE consequences for their evil deeds.