When Pennsylvania state police officers pulled Alexander J. Bernstein over to the side of Interstate 78 it appeared to be just another traffic stop. Bernstein was going 5 mph over the speed limit, traveling 60 in a 55 mph zone.
Bernstein and his friend Anadel Cruz were on their way to visit a relative when the red and blue lights appeared in their rear-view mirror. Bernstein pulled his Mercedes Benz to the side of the road and waited for the officers to issue their citation. The officers, suspicious of the luxury vehicle and its out of state license plates, were quick to probe Bernstein. With nothing to hide, Bernstein allowed the suspicious and interrogating officers to have a look inside the vehicle.
When the officers popped the trunk, they found two bars of soap wrapped in plastic. It didn’t look like soap, according to the officers, whose motives were unclear. According to The Allentown Morning, they decided the soap looked like cocaine. Bernstein and Cruz pleaded that the contraband in question was just soap bars wrapped in plastic.
The troopers didn’t listen and moved quickly to arrest Bernstein. He was detained and placed in police barracks as the officers waited for drug test results on the “cocaine” bricks they had confiscated.
When the drug test came back, the results affirmed the officer’s suspicions; the homemade soap bars were determined to be cocaine. Bernstein was immediately charged with drug trafficking. He was transported to the Leigh County Prison, where he spent 29 excruciating days behind bars on a $500,000 bail.
Man loses everything after officers claim his soap bars are cocaine
As Alexander J. Bernstein awaited the results of laboratory tests, he lost his job, reputation, apartment and possessions. He missed having Thanksgiving with his 17-month old son. When the laboratory results were in, they confirmed that the officers were wrong and that their field test had been faulty. The soap was indeed, soap. The state released Bernstein. Even so, Bernstein was left with $32,000 in court costs, a month of his life had been taken away from him, and everything he had was gone.
Attorney Joshua Karoly is now leading a suit against the state. The lawsuit claims that Bernstein was left homeless and destitute after being falsely accused and imprisoned for cocaine. “[Bernstein] did not so much as receive an apology from the defendants,” wrote Joshua Karoly.
“And even then, the FBI, the internet and other media sources will still contain a permanent record of his arrest and the criminal charges upon which he was maliciously prosecuted,” the lawsuit states.
Police field drug tests often give false positives
This is yet another horrifying case where police drug tests have given false positives. According to Pro Publica, Bernstein is not alone; police field tests have been proven faulty for potentially thousands of innocent people. Even worse, these faulty police field tests are relied on and used as evidence to put people in prison.
As Pro Publica points out, in Las Vegas, 33 percent of field tests were proven false by authorities after arrests had been made and after jail time had been issued. What’s horrifying is that these faulty field tests could be used intentionally to target certain people or to affirm an officer’s arrogant search and seizure of an innocent person’s property. They could also inadvertently give a false positive, putting naive travelers in handcuffs.
When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement did a laboratory review of several samples of methamphetamine confiscated by police, they found that 21 percent of the substances weren’t meth at all. It should be noted that police field tests are used to force a guilty plea from over 100,000 people each year. Between 20 and 40 percent of these drug arrests could theoretically be unfounded and illegal, as false positives are used as false evidence to put innocent travelers in handcuffs and behind bars.
It’s never been more important to learn how to stand up to authorities, to stop them from going through with illegal searches and seizures, breaches of privacy and destruction of civil liberties.
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