A 46 year old Brooklyn man spent 30 hours behind bars in April of this year for the crime of possession of MDMA pills, an illegal drug better known as ecstasy or E. A drug arrest story would be unremarkable, but for the fact that the pills in his pocket did not go by the name “Ebeneezer Goode.” Instead, they were POW brand energy mints, a perfectly legal cocktail of stimulants. Energy mints are similar to energy drinks, containing sugar, caffeine, taurine, vitamins and ginseng, giving the user a legal speed rush.
Following what may have been an illegal search on the street near the suspect’s home, police discovered the mints on the suspect’s person. Despite his protests that the alleged pills were really energy mints, NYPD officers were not buying it, and charged an innocent man with possession of MDMA. Energy mints are so new, the police probably never heard of them, and assumed that the suspect was feeding them a creative line of BS.
Some readers may jump to the conclusion that the cops in this case were as inept and bumbling as Chief Clancy Wiggums when he thought that Ned Flanders was “hepped up of goof balls,” yet in reality, it is easy to see how the police made the mistake, because quite frankly, energy mints do resemble ecstasy pills. To make things even more suspicious, the suspect was carrying the mints in a plastic bag instead of the product’s usual packaging. It would not surprise me if some would-be ravers have been duped into paying $20 a piece for mints, containing ingredients found far cheaper and in a tastier form at Starbucks. Maybe the suspect may have even planned to pass the mints off as E, had he not been hassled by the Man, but that is mere speculation.
Despite the similarity in appearance to E pills, the police do not get off the hook. They should have at the very least, performed a field test on the pills to determine the presence of an illegal substance before filing any charges, let alone having the suspect arraigned and committed to jail until he could appear before a judge for arraignment. That is standard operating procedure in any police department I have ever dealt with. It was not until the mints were tested in a crime lab that law enforcement discovered that the suspect had been telling the truth all along.
The erstwhile defendant is now a plaintiff in a federal law suit against the NYPD for the tort of false arrest. Although the suspect was released on his own recognizance after 30 hours in custody, the bogus charge hung over his head for six months before prosecutors corrected the mistake by withdrawing the charge in October, 2013. That means that during this time frame, a criminal background check would have revealed pending criminal charges. If the law suit is successsful, the plaintiff will make a lot more money than he could have passing off energy mints as E pills.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He handles a large volume of drug cases.