Authorities have dropped charges against a New York pair who spent nearly a month in jail after tests confirmed two kilograms of cocaine were, in fact, soap.
A state trooper pulled the couple over Nov. 13 on Interstate 78 in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, for driving 5 mph over the speed limit and hugging the side of the lane.
The trooper said he smelled marijuana, and the driver, 26-year-old Annadel Cruz, admitted that she’d smoked pot before leaving New York City.
Cruz consented to a search of the new Mercedes-Benz, and the trooper found two brick-size packages covered in clear plastic wrap and red tape in a bag stowed in the trunk.
The driver said the packages contained soap she’d made herself, but the trooper performed a field test that showed the presence of cocaine and arrested Cruz and her passenger, 30-year-old Alexander Bernstein.
Investigators said they found a small amount of marijuana in Cruz’s bra, and the couple was charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine, possession of cocaine, conspiracy and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Cruz also was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, disregarding traffic lanes and speeding.
Bernstein was sent to Lehigh County Prison under $500,000 bail and Cruz under $250,000 bail by District Judge Jacob Hammond.
They remained in jail until last week, when the Lehigh County district attorney’s office dropped the charges after a state police lab tested the packages and found they did not contain cocaine, only soap.
Attorneys are questioning the arrest and investigation, saying the trooper racially profiled the couple and bungled the field test.
“I think it is a nice car with out-of-state plates and a Hispanic female behind the wheel” that prompted the traffic stop, said Josh Karoly, an attorney for Bernstein. “If it was me driving that car, this wouldn’t have happened.”
An attorney for Cruz said the case calls into question any field test conducted by police.
“After this, everyone should pause about jumping to conclusions when a field test is said to be positive by law enforcement,” said attorney Robert Goldman. “There are people going to jail on high bail amounts based upon these field tests.”
Karoly said he doubts the field test actually happened, or he said the trooper may have lied about the results or performed it improperly.
“A young man spent a month in jail, spent a substantial amount of money to get out of jail and missed Thanksgiving with his 17-month-old son,” Karoly said. “To do that on a field test, we better be darn sure that these field tests are accurate.”
Bernstein posted bail Tuesday, the day before prosecutors told him they were dropping the charges, and Cruz was released Wednesday.
Cruz, a community college student with no prior criminal record, said she was upset that she had been identified as a drug dealer in national news reports.
“Her name is all over the place, making light of her defense that she was just transporting soap,” Goldman said. “She was labeled online as a drug dealer, she was incarcerated with people who do commit crimes. It’s going to take her a good deal of time to get her good name back.”
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