Failed Urinalyses and the Science of Drug Testing

By Allen, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Kyle T. Therrian
Office Number: (972) 562-7549
24 Hr Jail Release: (214) 403-6522

A failed urinalysis (“UA”) is one of the most common violations which result in a revocation of probation–but is it automatic? The notion that is impressed upon a person sitting in a probation office is that the matter is in the sole discretion of the probation officer. When a person believes his or her fate is in the hands of the probation officer, confessions and agreed sanctions are sure to flow.

Sanctions proposed by probation officers can range from completely reasonable to entirely absurd. When you have your back against the wall with an alleged probation violation, an understanding of the legal ramifications of refusing to accept a sanction is important. Not every scenario is as black-and-white as portrayed by a probation officer, and revocation is not in their sole discretion.

The standard of proof which earns the condemnation of a probation officer is a low one. In the administration of probation, accuracy can takes a backseat to efficiency. This is especially true with in-office drug tests which utilize an immunoassay method to determine the presence of illegal substances (the most common form of in-office drug testing). An immunoassay is a screening test which searches for the presence of chemical compounds which are characteristic in certain drugs and narcotics. However, many lawful substances have characteristics which are similar enough to drugs or narcotics to cause a false positive. For that reason, an immunoassay only indicates a possibility or likelihood that a tested sample contains an illegal drug or narcotic.

An immunoassay is usually acceptable for the probation officer to request an agreed sanction or recommend to the court that probation be revoked. However, many courts are reluctant to accept an immunoassay test as proof of illegal drug use. The more widely accepted method of drug testing requires a follow up “confirmatory test.” A confirmatory test uses sophisticated equipment in a laboratory to determine what the precise substance was that the immunoassay test screened as positive.

Whatever method of proof the State chooses to go forward with at a revocation hearing, the evidence must be sponsored by a person with a scientific understanding of the process and principles used by the particular test. This can present an equally difficult task, as most probation officers do not have an adequate background to fully satisfy what the law requires in this regard.

Suffice it to say, a failed drug test may not be as cut-and-dry as a probation officer’s portrayal. If you expect to find yourself in a situation where you will be pressured into accepting overwhelming sanctions, you should contact an attorney before making your decision.

*Kyle Therrian is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any case you should contact an attorney directly.

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