DUI Drug Recognition Experts – A Brief History
Driving under the influence of alcohol is easy to screen for by using a preliminary breath test or standardized field sobriety tests on the side of the road. While not definitive proof that someone is intoxicated or over the legal limit for alcohol, it certainly gives the police an indication if someone has been drinking. However, there are no preliminary breath tests for controlled substances that work the same way. Whether someone is high on prescription medication, illegal drugs, or even over-the-counter medications, there is no simple test that provides the cops with immediate feedback about whether someone is under the influence.
In the absence of such easy roadside testing, police went searching for an answer to the question, “How can I tell if a person is impaired by drugs?” In the 1970s, the Los Angeles Police Department began developing a program to determine whether someone might be under the influence of drugs. Police sergeants worked with medical professionals and experts to develop a simple procedure for identifying drug impairment. These officers began calling themselves drug recognition experts (DREs).
In early 1982, the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) worked with Johns Hopkins University to evaluate the program. The Los Angeles Police Department proudly boasted they were over 90% accurate in identifying whether someone was under the influence of drugs rather than alcohol. They neglected to translate this, however, into laymen's terms. Approximately one in ten times, the DREs got it wrong. Another evaluation of the program happened in 1985. During that evaluation, the DREs correctly identified at least one drug other than alcohol only 87% of the time.
In 1986, the Los Angeles Police Department developed a formal training program for officers to become DREs. In 1988, the United States Congress passed legislation that funded DRE training in 33 states.
Currently, the drug recognition training is offered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Training and certification are offered annually.
The ACLU of Georgia has noted that the NHTSA/IACP training program has never been independently or vigorously validated by an outside entity.
Drug Recognition Expert Training
In order to become certified a DRE, one must attend and complete a series of courses. One must also be employed in a public criminal justice agency or in an institution that trains police. Potential candidates must have experience preparing investigative reports and providing testimony in court in order to qualify to take the training.
- Participating in a NHTSA/IACP-approved course on the standardized field sobriety tests (SFST), or an equivalent program, as well as demonstrated proficiency at DRE Pre-School to the satisfaction of a DRE instructor.
- Attending and completing a NHTSA/IACP DRE Pre-School, where they demonstrate:
- An ability to define the term drug
- An ability to list the seven drug categories used in DRE
- An ability to measure blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature
- Proficiency in the 12-step evaluation process for being under the influence of drugs
- Proficiency in administering SFSTs, and
- An ability to administer an eye exam that includes measuring pupil size, vertical gaze nystagmus, and a lack of convergence of the eyes.
- Completing a classroom training course.
- Attending and completing assignments and passing the exam with a score of 80% or better.
- Correctly conducting a drug evaluation and documenting and interpreting those results accurately.
- Completing 12 drug-influence evaluations from three different drug categories. “Completion” means performing at least six evaluations and observing the remaining six evaluations.
Drug Recognition Expert Procedures
DREs perform an analysis of an individual based on a series of prescribed steps. Generally speaking, these evaluative factors include discussions with the investigating officer about why the investigating officer thought the person may be under the influence of drugs; physical examination of the driver; field sobriety tests; a check of vital signs, including pulse, body temperature, and blood pressure; examination of the nasal cavity, oral cavity, and pupils; a check of muscle tone; an inspection of the person's body, looking for needle marks; an evaluation of the driver's conduct during these exams, including an assessment of any comments the driver may make.
At the conclusion of the exam, the DRE renders an opinion about whether they believe the driver is under the influence of drugs, and what drugs they believe the driver has consumed and is being influenced by. At that point, a blood sample is collected and sent for testing.
Problems with Drug Recognition Experts
Drug recognition experts are trained to observe people and draw conclusions about drug use based on their observations. Unfortunately, the conduct a DRE observes may be attributable to drug use or it may be attributable to other factors. For example, a bad back or issues with balance may impact the field sobriety test results. While an officer may ask a person whether he or she has any physical issues that may impact the reliability of a field sobriety test, a person may not know how his or her physical condition may impact the test. Further, while nervous and facing the prospect of performing a physical feat at the side of the road, they may forget to report their physical limitations. Finally, anyone who has ever been pulled over by police knows their heart rate increases due to the interaction.
If You Have Been Charged With DUI
DUI charges can have serious consequences. Particularly with the unique features of a drug-related DUI charge, you need an attorney who understands the science behind the testing and the ways a DRE may mistake conduct or physical symptoms for being under the influence of drugs when that is simply not the case. Our Alpharetta and Roswell DUI attorneys will fight for your rights every step of the way. From challenging the stop of the car to contesting the conclusions of the DRE, we have the experience you need in your drug-related DUI charge. Contact us today to discuss the specific facts and circumstances of your case. We look forward to working with you.