Citing ‘serious concerns,’ judge drops drug test results from state custody case

Sep 12, 2022, 11:01 PM | Updated: 11:14 pm

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — A Utah judge has ruled disputed drug tests cannot be considered in a family court case, potentially impacting other cases involving similar results.

Fourth District Juvenile Court Judge Douglas Nielsen announced his decision during a remote hearing in the case Monday evening, citing “serious concerns” about the reliability of certain saliva-based drug test results.

The KSL Investigators first reported on doubt surrounding Kalie Jones’s test results. Jones and her husband, Nick Hulse, are involved in a case within Utah’s child welfare system. Their children have been living in foster care for months, as the two work on overcoming their addiction.

Jones insists she hasn’t used drugs, but her court-ordered tests kept coming back positive for methamphetamine. In an effort to prove her innocence, Jones sought out backup urine tests from another provider on days she was ordered to test with Averhealth, the company Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) contracts with for drug testing.

“I knew nobody would believe us because we’re drug addicts,” she told KSL.

Despite Jones’ claims and multiple negative urine tests, DCFS relied on positive oral fluid tests to delay a planned trial home placement just before the school year.

Doubt over the accuracy of court-ordered drug tests could have widespread implications for Utahns

In an expedited evidentiary hearing last month, the court heard testimony from drug testing experts regarding several positive saliva test results in question.

“The court has serious concerns about the reliability of oral fluid testing as it pertains to amphetamine, ecstasy and methamphetamine testing,” Nielsen said during Monday’s hearing.

Nielsen said he found the collection and lab processes to be legally and scientifically sound, but cited expert testimony that saliva is at risk for contamination in a way that urine is not – because the mouth can be contaminated by substances in the environment.

He chose to overlook the positive results of mouth swabs in the case due to uncertainty surrounding how the substance might have been introduced to the sample, but said he also had serious concerns about the backup urine tests Jones provided to the court. He noted that while testimony revealed a staff member was in the room with Jones while she provided the sample, he did not hear testimony assuring that the collection of the sample was observed.

KSL’s investigation found Jones shouldn’t have even had to take the mouth swab tests. Averhealth’s contract with the state prohibits the use of oral fluid tests “as a substitute of a urinalysis when a same-sex collector is unavailable,” but Jones said Averhealth has violated that part of the contract on multiple occasions. When a female employee is not available to watch her provide a urine sample, she has been forced to do a saliva test instead.

“In the court’s eyes, the availability of staff to observe urinalysis tests is critical to a parent’s ability to prove his or her sobriety in the pursuit of the goal of reunification,” Nielsen said.

Jones and Hulse, while relieved to learn the positive saliva test results will not be used against them, say they cannot reclaim time already lost with their children because of those tests.

“It is impactful if there are other people who are aware of it,” Jones said of Monday’s ruling, “because if [the judge] says that those mouth swabs are invalid, let’s say that there were 10 other people that had mouth swabs that day, wouldn’t theirs then be invalid as well?”

It’s too soon to know how or if this may impact other custody cases before the state. The judge’s decision was narrow and specific to meth-positive saliva tests.

When reached for comment, a DCFS spokesperson said DCFS officials will respond once they’ve had a chance to review the judge’s written ruling.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: How cybercriminals use social engineering to get us to hand over our sensitive info

You can have the strongest, most secure password in the history of cybersecurity, but the bad guys know there is one weakness they can use to hack into your system - you!
6 months ago
Delric Ellington and Kael Ellington talk about a stray bullet that entered their Salt Lake City hom...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera, KSL TV

Amid increase in youth shooting deaths, Utah pediatricians push for tougher gun laws

The number of Utah children and teens killed by gunfire reached a record high in 2020, in part because of a spike in homicides. Two Utah pediatricians are calling on the state to pass what they see as solutions to the troubling trend.
6 months ago
Albee Bostrom and Sissy McDade turned their love of thrift store shopping into a business: Thrift H...
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Second-hand shopping, selling surge as Utahns try to beat rising prices

Data shared with the KSL investigators shows Utahns are trying to bring in more money and reduce spending as they try to bust inflation.
6 months ago
Bry Hansen visits his son's grave in South Jordan. (Tanner Siegworth/KSL TV)...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera, KSL TV

The number of Utah kids and teens dying by gunfire hit a record high in 2020

The state hit a devastating milestone in 2020, recording the highest-ever number of shooting deaths among Utahns 18 and younger.
6 months ago
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: What can you do if you pay someone to do work but they disappear with your money?

Imagine paying a deposit only to have them take your money and ghost you.
6 months ago
Photo illustration (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Your credit card can up your interest rate without telling you

If your credit card company raises your interest rate even just a little bit, it could have a significant impact on how long it takes you to get out of debt. A relatively new law means your credit card company can do just that and they do not even have to give you the heads up.
6 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Citing ‘serious concerns,’ judge drops drug test results from state custody case