A 33-year-old Florida man says that a police mistake has cost him both his job and his reputation. The Pensacola resident was charged with drug possession on Oct. 6 after a roadside drug testing kit used by police indicated that a white powder found in his car was cocaine, but subsequent laboratory testing conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement discovered no trace of the drug.

The man’s vehicle was originally pulled over by Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputies for a license plate violation, but the situation escalated when one of the deputies claimed that the car smelled of marijuana. While no marijuana was discovered during the subsequent vehicle search, deputies did find a plastic bag containing white powder. The man told deputies that the substance was protein powder, but he was taken into custody and charges with drug possession when a portable drug testing kit signaled that the powder was cocaine.

The charge was dropped on Oct. 25 after more rigorous testing established that the powder was benign, but that was too late to save the man’s job. He had worked with troubled teens in a program operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice. However, reports suggest that the DJJ has been advised of the police mistake and may be reevaluating its position. A Escambia County Sheriff’s Office representative could not explain how the portable kits used by deputies had twice identified the substance as an illegal drug when more established testing protocols had proved that it was not.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may scrutinize police reports carefully when those facing serious drug crime charges have not been in trouble with the law before and have no history of substance abuse. Attorneys could also seek to have criminal charges dismissed when police officers have conducted warrantless searches based upon dubious grounds.

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