Admissibility of field test kit results

In State v. Carter, 237 N.C. App. 274 (2014) the NC Court of Appeals found that a trial court abused its discretion by admitting an officer’s testimony that narcotics indicator field test kits indicated the presence of cocaine on various items.

The court cited State v. Ward, 364 N.C. 133, 142 (2010) which held that “expert witness testimony required to establish that the substances introduced . . . are in fact controlled substances must be based on a scientifically valid chemical analysis[.]” In Carter, a sheriff’s deputy tested for the presence of cocaine on various items in a residence using a narcotics indicated field test kit (“NIK”). The State did not introduce evidence about how the chemical analysis worked or any testimony about the tests’ reliability apart from the sheriff’s deputy’s opinion based on his personal experience with the kits.

The court noted that the NIKs were similar to ones that have not previously been found by our courts to be a reliable method of controlled substance identification. See State v. James, 215 N.C. App. at 589, 590 (2011)  (finding the State did not sufficiently establish the reliability of [a] NIK” consisting of “small ‘moist towelette . . . about the size of a[n] alcohol wipe[]’ . . . that . . . turned blue, thereby indicating that the substance tested positive for cocaine.”)

The court relied on State v. Meadows, 201 N.C. App. 707 (2010) which held that a trial court abused its discretion by allowing an officer to testify that substances were cocaine based on NarTest field test. Attorneys should review these decisions when litigating cases where field test kits or other presumptive tests were used and consider whether the reliability of the tests can be established.

 

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