R. Todd Bennett, P.C.
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Scientists able to establish cocaine use from fingerprints

Texas residents may be surprised to learn that scientists have developed a means of establishing a person's cocaine use by performing chemical tests on their fingerprints. Researchers say that these tests would provide a less invasive and more hygienic alternative to traditional drug testing methods, and they say that portable testing kits could be available to law enforcement personnel within a decade. The research was published in a scientific journal in May 2015.

According to the British and Dutch scientists behind the research, one of the benefits of fingerprint tests is that the results cannot be faked. This would make it more difficult to mount a drug charge defense based on unreliable test results due to a contaminated sample or improper testing methods. The fact that the test is based on a fingerprint also makes it difficult to claim that another individual provided the sample.

The fingerprint test detects cocaine use through a process known as ambient mass spectrometry. Certain chemicals are produced in the body after cocaine is introduced, and the new drug test detects traces of these metabolites. The scientists who conducted the research say that an individual who had merely handled the drug would not test positive as traces of methylecgonine and benzoylecgonine would only be present if the drug had actually been consumed.

While the results of this scientific research may be impressive, they also raise a number of questions. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and police officers must have probable cause or secure a warrant before conducting a saliva, blood or urine test on an individual suspected of violating drug laws. Fingerprints could be discovered and tested without the suspect even being present, and criminal defense attorneys will likely pay close attention to the actions of law enforcement agencies if this form of drug testing is implemented.

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