The Drug Residue on Your Money Just Got Way More Incriminating
August 13, 2007 | 6:21:37 PMCategories: Drugs & Alcohol
If you are looking for drugs, look no further than your wallet or purse. Paper money is almost always tainted with drug residue. When cops seize cash from someone, they can trace where it came from by analyzing illicit chemicals found on the bills.
Imagine this: Some guy that was running a money laundering operation gets caught with a pile of cash. Chemists in a crime lab determine that some of the bills have the same type and amount of drug residue that was found on a drug dealer's stash of cash. This provides some extra evidence that the guy was laundering money for the drug dealer.
Law enforcement officials once argued that any trace of illicit substances on seized cash was evidence sufficient to connect a defendant with a drug-related crime. Then, in the mid-1980's, scientists made it clear that nearly all paper money is contaminated with at least some drug residue. Once that news sunk in, the rules of the game changed. Defense attorneys could argue that a small amount of residue on cash was not sufficient evidence to convict their clients.
In recent trials, people caught with unusually dirty money have tried to wiggle out of trouble by saying that their cash came from a shady neighborhood. They argue that bank notes from bad places are more likely to have a high level of drug residue. Five scientists from Bristol, England have proven them wrong.
Scientists from Mass Spec Analytical Limited and the University of Bristol traveled all around England, Scotland, and Wales. They collected £10 and £20 notes from areas that are rich and poor, urban and rural, safe and dangerous. Using a machine called a mass spectrometer, the researchers performed a careful chemical analysis of each bill, allowing them to gather statistics on the levels of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and ecstasy in each bank note and relate those measurements to where it came from.
In the current issue of Forensic Science International, the team led by James F. Carter and Richard Sleeman concluded that there is no meaningful relationship between where a bill came from and the type or amount of drug residue is on it.
As a basis of comparison, they added a clever trick to their test.
On each trip to the bank, one of the researchers would note the arm on which he was wearing his wristwatch. The statistics showed that the arm he wore his watch on had as much of a bearing on the pattern of drug residue as where the bills came from.
The scientists rationalized that since bills are circulated quickly, their geographic origin is totally unrelated to how contaminated they are. Thus, if someone gets caught with a stash of drug money, they can no longer blame the above-average levels of residue on the hood where they got it.