DUI Drug Recognition Experts

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The History of DUI Drug Recognition Experts

In the 1970s, police in the Los Angeles Police Department developed a program called “drug recognition.” The idea behind the program was to train cops to recognize the signs and symptoms of people who have ingested illegal substances as well as those under the influence of prescription or even over the counter medications.

In the 1980s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse created studies and subsequently created a training program for drug recognition experts. Police departments all over the country began employing drug recognition experts to oversee cases where motorists are stopped for driving while under the suspected influence of drugs rather than alcohol.

The Training of Drug Recognition Experts

Drug recognition experts are trained in phases. A prerequisite to training is the completion of an approved course covering the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFSTs). Phase one of the DRE training -- which consists of 16 hours -- covers evaluation procedures, drug categories, eye examinations, and proficiency in field sobriety testing.

The second phase of training is 56 hours in length and includes drug evaluation procedures, drug combinations, how to examine vital signs, preparing their case, how to testify, and how to put together a Curriculum Vitae.

The final phase of DRE training involves assessing 12 drug evaluations. Officers must identify people under the influence of at least three of the seven types of drug categories. They must also obtain a 75% pass rate when determining the class of drugs of which the person was under the influence.

DRE 12-Step Program

A drug recognition expert (DRE) performs an evaluation consisting of a series of twelve steps.

  1. Breath alcohol tests are administered to determine if the person has alcohol in their system.
  2. Consultation with the arresting officer is conducted to determine the basis for the stop, as well as any other observed behavior that could suggest drug use.
  3. The driver is evaluated through inquiries about any known medical issues and any physical limitations that could explain subsequent test results by something other than being under the influence of a substance other than alcohol.
  4. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) and Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN) tests are administered (these field sobriety tests are also administered in alcohol-related DUI stops, and are subjective) as well as a test for ocular convergence.
  5. Other field sobriety tests are also administered, such as the one leg stand, the walk and turn, and/or the finger to the nose test. These tests are referred to as “divided attention psychophysical tests.”
  6. Vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature are recorded.
  7. The driver's pupils are evaluated under varying lights. The driver's nasal cavities and oral cavities are also evaluated.
  8. Muscle tone is evaluated, looking for both rigidity and flaccidity.
  9. The driver's body is inspected, with particular attention paid to common sites drug addicts use when injecting illegal substances.
  10. The driver is observed, his or her conduct is evaluated, and his or her comments are scrutinized.
  11. The drug recognition expert then renders an opinion about whether the driver is under the influence of drugs and what class of drugs it may be. Combined with training and experience, DRE experts rely on a DRE Drug Symptomatology Matrix to conclude their findings.
  12. Blood is collected from the driver to confirm whether or not there are drugs present in the driver's system.

Problems with DUI Drug Recognition Experts

The reliability of a drug recognition expert is a topic of debate in the criminal justice system. This is of particular importance because, under the Rules of Evidence, a person may only offer an expert opinion if one's training, education, and experience support the ability to render an opinion. As such, the training of the officer is almost always an issue.

Additionally, unlike a breathalyzer test, which shows the presence or absence of alcohol, a drug recognition expert is evaluating information that may or may not be the result of drug use. The problems may start in step two when the DRE speaks to the cop who initiated the stop of the driver. Obviously, this person is predisposed to believe the driver is under the influence of something. Why else call the DRE? Unfortunately, this conversation may influence the DRE, as the officer shares his suspicions. Bias is immediately introduced, and the DRE cannot “unhear” the words of the arresting officer.

There are other problems in evaluating evidence and searching for indications of intoxication. For example, there are any number of reasons a person's pupils may be dilated. Think about the rush of adrenaline one feels when pulled over by the police. This very same nervousness could result in one's pupils dilating.

Depressants, inhalants, and dissociative anesthetics can cause an HGN reaction that mimics the reaction expected when one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

It is somewhat disturbing that despite an extensive number of hours of training before becoming a DRE, no time appears to be dedicated to “false positive” results. The officers do not appear to get training on what other things could explain the symptoms they observe.

If You are Charged with DUI...

If you are charged with DUI, our Hall County DUI Drug Recognition attorneys can help. Whether you are charged with driving under the influence of an illegal substance, a prescription medication, or even an over the counter medication, our attorneys are well-versed in challenging these types of charges.

We would like to talk to you about the facts and circumstances of your case. We can discuss the possible consequences you may be facing as well as various avenues of attack. Don't just assume there is nothing that can be done in a DUI Drug case. Contact our office today at (404) 816.4440.

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