Drug suspects had soap, not cocaine bricks
Pair spent month in prison before lab results came back.
December 13, 2013|By Manuel Gamiz Jr., Of The Morning Call
a state trooper pulled the couple over along Interstate 78 last month,
he said he stopped them because they were going 5 miles over the speed
limit and hugging the side of the lane.
The trooper said he
smelled marijuana. The driver of the new Mercedes-Benz, 26-year-old
Annadel Cruz, told him she had smoked the drug before she left New York
City, but had not done so in the car.
trooper asked to search the car, and Cruz consented. When the trooper
found two plastic-wrapped packages in the trunk of the car, Cruz told
him they contained soap she had made herself.
field-tested them and Cruz and her friend, 30-year-old Alexander
Bernstein, spent the next month in Lehigh County Prison after being
arrested on cocaine-trafficking charges.
They got out this week
after the Lehigh County district attorney's office dropped the charges
because a state police lab tested the packages and found they contained
boric acid or soap.
Attorneys for the couple are questioning the
investigation, accusing the trooper of profiling the couple and botching
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, who represents Bernstein. "If it was me driving
that car, this wouldn't have happened."
Cruz's attorney, Robert
Goldman, said, "After this, everyone should pause about jumping to
conclusions when a field test is said to be positive by law enforcement.
There are people going to jail on high bail amounts based upon these
Bernstein was sent to prison under $500,000 bail and Cruz under $250,000 bail by District Judge Jacob Hammond.
tests are used by police departments to test substances believed to be
drugs at suspected crime scenes. A sample of the substance is mixed with
a liquid, causing a reaction and change in color that will indicate if
it is an illegal drug, Karoly said.
That substance will then be sent to the state police lab for further analysis and testing.
Karoly said he believes the field test either didn't happen, it was lied about or something is wrong with how it was done.
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," he
said. "To do that on a field test, we better be darn sure that these
field tests are accurate."
Bernstein's bail was posted Tuesday, a
day before the district attorney's office called to let him know they
were dropping charges. Cruz, a community college student, was released
from prison Wednesday, Goldman said. Goldman said Cruz had no criminal
record before the Nov. 13 stop in South Whitehall Township.
his client is happy to be released, Goldman said it will take time to
recover from the stigma of being incarcerated as a drug offender.
name is all over the place, making light of her defense that she was
just transporting soap," he 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," Goldman said.
According to a criminal complaint:
state trooper stopped Cruz, who was driving a new Mercedes-Benz, on
westbound I-78 near the Cedar Crest Boulevard exit because she was
approaching 60 mph in a 55 mph zone and was riding a traffic line for
about a half-mile.
When questioned, Cruz told the trooper the car
was a rental and they were driving from New York to Florida. The trooper
told her he smelled marijuana and she said she had smoked earlier in
the day, but not in the car. She gave police permission to search the
Bernstein told police he had a bag in the trunk and gave
police permission to search it. In the bag, the trooper found two
brick-size packages, which were covered in clear plastic wrap and red
Cruz told police the packages contained soap she had made,
but a field test revealed that the substance was cocaine. The packages
weighed 5.2 pounds. Police said they also found a small amount of
marijuana in Cruz's bra.
The couple were 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.
district attorney's office would only confirm that the state police lab
determined the substance found in the car turned out to be soap,
leading to the charges being withdrawn Thursday.
Attempts to reach state police Friday were unsuccessful.
Both attorneys accused state police of profiling.
said police stopped his client for barely going past the speed limit
and getting close to the line, something almost every driver on the
highway does at some point.
"Anybody who drives under 60 miles an
hour on I-78 has the chance of getting rear-ended," Goldman said. "It
was one of the worst probable causes for stopping."
Goldman said his client was taking the soap to a sister in Florida. He described Bernstein as her friend.
Karoly said this case is an example of rushing to conclusions.
"We are so cynical that we don't believe people," Karoly said. "We don't give people the benefit of the doubt."
Neither attorney said he has discussed civil litigation.