Marijuana “Field Test” Nabs Sage-Burning Birdwatcher

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

We can now add sage to the list of substances that have turned out false positives on the field tests cops use when they think they’ve found marijuana. The list also includes chocolate chip cookiesdeoderantbilliards chalkDr. Bronner’s Magic Soappatchouli, spearmint, and eucalyptus; and breath mints.

Why, it’s almost as if these field tests say whatever the cops want them to say. They’re like the drug-detecting dogs of . . . um . . . drug detection. Okay. So that metaphor doesn’t work.

This particular story begins with the poor lady out doing some birdwatching.

Sheriff’s Deputy Dominic Raimondi, 51, mistook Brown’s sage for marijuana, then searched her car and found more. His field kit said the sage — purchased at an airport gift shop in Albuquerque, N.M. — tested positive for marijuana.

He did not arrest her that day in March 2009, but sent the 50 grams of “contraband” to the crime lab for a more definitive test.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Horn ordered Brown’s arrest without having the sage tested, court records show.

Three months later, Raimondi showed up at the Massage Envy in Weston where Brown works and took her away in handcuffs.

“They arrested me in front of my customers, my boss, my co-workers,” Brown said. She later was subjected to a body cavity search, a strip search and an overnight stay in jail.

A month later, Brown’s attorney discovered that the sage had never been tested at the Broward Sheriff’s Office crime lab.

“When I found out they didn’t do a lab test, I was outraged,” said her Miami attorney, Bill Ullman. “I raised hell about that.”

On July 23, 2009, Ullman demanded that the sage be tested.

The lab test concluded that the dried sage was not marijuana at all. The criminal charges were dropped.

So the prosecutor swore in a statement that the woman was in possession of marijuana, despite the fact that the sage had never been tested in a lab. And they had three months to test it. This led to Brown’s wrongful arrest in front of customers and colleagues, a strip search, and her detention.

A  judge then tossed Brown’s negligence and malicious prosecution lawsuit because of . . . you guessed it . . . absolute prosecutorial immunity.

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39 Responses to “Marijuana “Field Test” Nabs Sage-Burning Birdwatcher”

  1. #1 |  Difster | 

    Some day the sheep are going to bite back.

  2. #2 |  Whim | 

    Just an honest mistake.

    Afterall, the lady only got arrested in her place of employment in front of her customers and co-workers, lead away in handcuffs, taken to jail, strip searched, body cavity searched, and incarcerated until bail could be made.

    No real harm done, right?

    Sacrifices have to be made by the public in the noble War on Sage, er, War on Drugs?

  3. #3 |  Gordon Clason | 

    Do prosecutors also have immunity from slander? Other torts? How about fraud? Dozens of torts were committed including converstion and trover, seizing her property without cause, trespass, assault…

  4. #4 |  Difster | 

    Street justice.

  5. #5 |  JP | 

    prosecutorial immunity is pretty much whatever the judge hearing the case says…

    And since most judges come from the ranks of prosecutors it’s only natural for them to protect them as best they can….

    The system is broke, it’s beyond broke it’s pathetic… I’d love to live long enough to see the outcome of a citizen revolt against our corrupted criminal justice system.

  6. #6 |  J.S. | 

    Don’t forget poppy seed muffins/cake for opiates tests.

    Mythbusters:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxr6bQikRk0

  7. #7 |  Bergman | 

    If an individual commits crimes, yet the police and courts refuse to act. If an individual violates civil rights yet cannot be sued because all courts will refuse to hear the case. If the only path that can produce justice-like results involves gunfire, is it immoral?

  8. #8 |  Toastrider | 

    “A judge then tossed Brown’s negligence and malicious prosecution lawsuit because of . . . you guessed it . . . absolute prosecutorial immunity.”

    What.

  9. #9 |  random_guy | 

    another case of libertarianism happening to people. I bet shes not going to buy into anymore drug war rhetoric, if she ever did in the first place.

    At this point my only hope for this country improving is for law enforcement to begin acting so reckless and unaccountable that no one in the community can delude themselves with the “hero” myth. But then again delusion seems to be the only thing this country has in abundance these days. I’m pretty sure cops could roll around in vans indiscriminately tasering, shooting, and snatching people off the streets and most of this country would still laugh when you call it a police state.

  10. #10 |  the innominate one | 

    If either major political party were concerned with justice and liberty (and I realize neither is) we’d see statutes & amendments modifying or eliminating absolute immunity.

    Why doesn’t at least the bar association discipline this guy for his screw up?

  11. #11 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Absolute prosecutorial stupidity!!! The war on drugs is a joke,these people should be in prison.

  12. #12 |  Highway | 

    These are the cases that point out that we’re not looking for extraordinary measures. Folks like us reading this and boggling at the stupidity don’t necessarily want prosecutors and police to launch some massive investigation to catch people. Just do the next test. Do it! Get the actual facts. They had the evidence. Was there some time frame that they futzed around and ran up on without getting the test on the evidence? If there was, then why did it take so long? Or if there wasn’t, then why did this case even come back up? “Ok, this lady, we took evidence that we need to get tested. Is that done? No? Why not? You’ve had it for how long? Ok, get it done, then we’ll look at this one again.”

    I really think the police and prosecutors just like shaming people. They like to frog march people around in front of their friends, clients, customers. They like to subject them to indignities. It helps keep the other ones in line. And if they made a mistake? “Awww, that stuff didn’t actually ‘harm’ you. We let you go, right? It’s not like you had to spend a whole sentence in jail.” Although it’s not like they’re any more repentant when they do make someone spend a whole sentence in jail for something they didn’t do…

  13. #13 |  Marty | 

    “When I found out they didn’t do a lab test, I was outraged,” said her Miami attorney, Bill Ullman. “I raised hell about that.”

    I was outraged about the body cavity search, being arrested, being arrested in front of customers, having her car searched, prosecutor immunity, loss of income, legal expenses, loss of time….

    bullshit like this hurts everyone- we’ve had to toss tenants out because they couldn’t pay their rent after incurring trumped up tickets. this doesn’t just hurt the person arrested.

    This is a good example of why people think Jim Bell was on to a good thing.

  14. #14 |  perlhaqr | 

    Hey, at least it wasn’t in Detroit. They still had the evidence to test.

  15. #15 |  Pablo | 

    I continue to be dismayed about how casually prosecutors can and do indict someone. The old saying “you can indict a ham sandwich” is so true. In most prosecutors’ offices an indictment is seen as a mere formality to go through after someone has been suspected of a crime. Most of the time the grand jury is just a rubber stamp, and people are indicted based solely on an LEO’s word without the prosecutor actually investigating the case. I suppose they dont know or care that to the person being indicted, it is more than a formality. It means arrest, incarceration, having to post a bond, having to hire an attorney, etc. I’ve had clients who lost their jobs, spent thousands of dollars, endured the harrowing experience of jail, etc only to have their cases dismissed for lack of evidence. I guess prosecutors think all that is just the price of doing business.

  16. #16 |  primus | 

    Should sue the people who hired the prosecutor; they are charged with hiring competent people. The prosecutor exhibited great incompetence, ergo his employers did not do their jobs properly. A suit naming a huge figure against the city which hired this boob would get their attention; unlike the boob, the employers have no immunity from prosecution.

  17. #17 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Salvia Divinorum is a sage, and illegal in many states.
    I wonder if this is some kind of bureaucratic mistake.
    Or maybe just confirmation that “anything” can get you
    arrested these days.

  18. #18 |  Mario | 

    Had she been carrying parsley, rosemary, and thyme as well, she’d currently be being held without bail.

  19. #19 |  awp | 

    Primus,

    I think the supreme court just found (in that case out of Louisiana) that the local govt or prosecutor’s office can’t be held responsible for the actions of “one “rogue” prosecutor”.

  20. #20 |  Cyto | 

    Apparently I’m a bit thick, because I already know the answer and it still stuns me every time. The system exists to protect the system. Everyone in the system is proud of the fact that the system is sacred and must be protected.

    I first ran in to this attitude back around 1990 with the Little Rascals pre-school molestation panic. I happened to meet the chief justice of the North Carolina supreme court through his daughter after seeing the Frontline series on the case. I asked him why nobody was doing anything about these obviously perfectly innocent people sitting in jail with life sentences. He placidly explained that with no case before his court, there was nothing that he could do about it. His reasoning on the whole thing had to do with the integrity of the process and each party playing their role. Real guilt or innocence didn’t really factor in to his thinking at all.

    It took those people years to get their lives back (such as it is – they’ll never be whole). But the integrity of the system was protected, so everything is OK. We see the same thing with police departments circling the wagon around obviously bad outcomes of police actions with phrases like “no procedures were violated” – as if that magically makes the fact that you murdered someone OK. Holding someone in jail and destroying their career when you should have known that they were innocent is fine, because you acted within your authority.

    The tribal instinct that distracts the individual from the true nature of their actions is immensely powerful and incredibly dangerous. It seems clear that most anyone can fall victim to this kind of thought process – which is why we have things like the Holocaust Memorial to remind us to maintain our vigilance. The slap in the face for me is the fact that people who would bristle at the mere suggestion of a parallel to Nazi groupthink are the ones who leave people like Robert Kelly to rot in jail even though they know to a near metaphysical certainty that the allegations against him are a complete fabrication. And they sleep very well at night knowing that they’re protecting the system, which is more important than any one person.

  21. #21 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    It is obvious to me that what is needed is legislation making Prosecutors liable for acts of such ostentatious stupidity. Writing to your state representative in the wake of a similar but local scandal would seem to be the right tactical move. Yes, it would start as an uphill battle, but I have lived to see stranger shifts in the political landscape.

    I shall start looking for instances in my area.

  22. #22 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Shits gotta stop now. Sage is the primary herb in sausage!

  23. #23 |  MikeZ | 

    I sounds like the reporter may have had a hyphenation problem this seems to be a bit more likely “His field kit — purchased at an airport gift shop in Albuquerque, N.M. — said the sage tested positive for marijuana.”

  24. #24 |  Deoxy | 

    Thsi sort of stuff will stop when the people who do it (the prosecutor being the best example in this case) are punished for it. Since the system will not punish them, this sort of stuff will stop when people start punishing them for it outside the system.

    To put it another way, the current system is not just, so it cannot give justice.

  25. #25 |  Ross | 

    From my experience, Judges will not even talk to you unless you have an attorney.

  26. #26 |  Mannie | 

    #22 | Boyd Durkin | June 1st, 2011 at 10:47 am
    Shits gotta stop now. Sage is the primary herb in sausage!

    Don’t say that! Now the Food Nazis will be after her!

  27. #27 |  Dr. Q | 

    Whoever conducted the so-called “body cavity search” ought to be charged with rape.

  28. #28 |  goober1223 | 

    They’re like the drug-detecting dogs of . . . um . . . drug detection. Okay. So that metaphor doesn’t work.

    You mean simile?

  29. #29 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    # #27 | Dr. Q | June 1st, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Whoever conducted the so-called “body cavity search” ought to be charged with rape.

    Seconded. It was totally unnecessary before they even found out they fucked up. Yeah, sure, the lady is just going to chill at her place of work with contraband tucked away inside herself.. It was out of pure malice / desire to punish outside the confines of the system. These people are rabid.

  30. #30 |  jmcross | 

    Sometimes, even when they bother to test the offending substance, the cops don’t trouble themselves to read the lab report. They just go ahead and bust you anyway.

    http://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/hands-33080-state-controlled.html

  31. #31 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “When I found out they didn’t do a lab test, I was outraged,” said her Miami attorney, Bill Ullman. “I raised hell about that.”

    Well yeah, that is one of the outrageous parts of this story. I don’t support marijuana prohibition, but for christ sakes, anyone with a tiny bit of training in forensics knows that field tests are PRESUMPTIVE tests. In other words, a more thorough test in the chemistry/toxicology section at the crime lab is necessary before saying that the substance is indeed marijuana, coke, etc. This is some morally retarded bullshit!

  32. #32 |  Sinchy | 

    The cops who first encountered her knew it wasn’t marijuana. She had no pipe, papers, bong, or other smoking apparatus.
    Did they really believe she was smoking a 1-2 inch diameter bundle of herbs like some ridiculous scene from a Cheech and Chong movie?
    Ms. Brown wasn’t intoxicated and didn’t show signs of being stoned since presumably they let her drive away after they didn’t arrest her.
    And why did she have to prove she was bird watching?

  33. #33 |  croaker | 

    @7 Samuel Clemens would call that “laudable homicide”. And eventually it will happen. And I sincerely hope that at least one juror (assuming a trial), or the entire jury, will say “He needed killing.”

  34. #34 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    So angry. Must write a letter and maybe even a petition. Sorry, but the bastards really asked for it.

  35. #35 |  Justthisguy | 

    I vote for slow death by impalement for that particular prostituting attorney. I would never say that Patterico is as nasty as that one, but somehow his name immediately came to mind.

    P.s. You left out catnip. A dangerous drug for some kittehs, who just can’t hold their ‘nip, but with no effect on humans. I mind the founder of the Cosmic Catnip firm being pulled over with a pickup-load of the finest ‘nip because the pigs thought that it might be reefer.

    If we have to have mean cops, could they at least have three-digit IQs? And consciences?

  36. #36 |  demize! | 

    #18 Mario for the win!

  37. #37 |  Sage, chocolate chip cookies, deoderant, billiards chalk, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, patchouli, spearmint, eucalyptus, breath mints . . . | The Agitator | 

    [...] that continue to produce absurd false positives. Links to field test horror stories in the headline here. Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  [...]

  38. #38 |  Another faulty drug test | Law and Baseball | 

    [...] Radley Balko points out, you can now add oil to the list of false positives. Chocolate chip cookies, deodorant, [...]

  39. #39 |  Testing stuff « Blitz Blawg | 

    [...] each year, have produced false positives for all kinds of stuff. The Agitator, Radley Balko, in his article about Robin Brown’s run-in with the field test, links to stories of false positives for stuff like “chocolate chip cookies; deodorant; billiards [...]

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