Shai Werts was happy to hear his charge of possession of cocaine was dropped, but the news wasn’t surprising to him.
Since his arrest July 31, Werts knew he was innocent of the drug possession charge. He was pulled over at about 9 p.m. that day while driving a silver 2016 Dodge Charger that had been going 80 mph down Chappells Highway. After the stop, the officer noticed a white substance on the hood of the car that someone likely tried to clean with windshield washer fluid.
Werts insisted it was bird excrement that he tried to clean off at a car wash days earlier. The deputy suspected the substance was cocaine, and two field tests showed positive results.
A sample of the substance was sent to the State Law Enforcement Division for testing to verify the results of the field tests, and Werts was charged with possession of less than a gram of cocaine and cited with speeding.
Werts’ attorney, Greenwood’s W. Townes Jones IV, said he received a call Thursday afternoon from the chief deputy solicitor over the tri-county area of the 11th Circuit saying the cocaine charge would be dropped.
“He said ‘Well, I just want you to know I’ve reviewed the evidence given to me,’” Jones said. “I have a duty as a prosecutor to seek justice, not just prosecute whatever case is in front of me.”
Jones said the prosecutor agreed that there wasn’t any evidence to support that Werts knew where the deposit on his car’s hood came from, let alone what it was. An element in proving possession of cocaine, Jones said, is proving the person accused knew they had cocaine on them.
The prosecutor said that even if the SLED test results came back positive for cocaine, the solicitor’s office would be dropping the charges because the case lacked “prosecutorial merit,” Jones said. SLED’s test Thursday showed there was no controlled substance detected in the sample.
“Upon a thorough review of the report, the dash camera and the body camera, Deputy Solicitor Al Eargle and I made the decision that the charge should be appropriately dismissed,” 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard wrote in a news release Friday. “The charge lacks prosecutorial merit and the evidence is insufficient for the State to proceed.”
The release said the expungement process has started to remove this charge from the system and ensure that it doesn’t create a criminal history for Werts.
Werts, a Clinton native who is a junior quarterback at Georgia Southern University, was in a meeting with his coach when Jones called him with news about the charge’s dismissal. Werts asked Jones to call his mother and tell her the good news.
“He was very, very happy — but not surprised,” Jones said.
The night of Werts’ arrest, he had been enjoying dinner with his parents at Blue Ocean in his hometown of Clinton, Jones said. Werts was driving back to Statesboro, Georgia for practice the following day.
Jones said in preparing to defend the case, he went to the restaurant and found surveillance cameras that showed the deposit was on the hood of his car when he was at the restaurant.
With several high-profile cases of field drug tests returning false positives, Jones said this case was an example of those tests’ unreliability.
“This case is a perfect example of why a field test is not admissible in court to convict someone,” he said. “You have to have a licensed toxicologist look at a substance and testify.”
When defending other clients in drug cases, Jones said even if presented with a favorable plea deal he always urges clients to wait until SLED’s test results come back, in case the field test gave a false positive.