The 12 Components of the Drug Recognition Process

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jul 02, 2018 | 0 Comments

The Drug Recognition Expert Program (DRE) is not often referred to as the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The IACP offers this training with support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States Department of transportation. Whether one refers to it as DRE or DEC, however, the concept is the same. The District of Columbia and 37 states participate in DRE or DEC programming. The idea is that, by relying on certain methods and procedures, officers can become skilled in the detection and identification of people who are driving while impaired or affected by drugs.

The 12 Steps of the Drug Evaluation Process

There are 12 steps in the drug evaluation process. Each step, in theory, requires an individual assessment by a DUI Drug Recognition Expert. The following is a description of these 12 steps.

1. The Breath Alcohol Test

First, a DRE will ask for the results of the breath alcohol test. According to the IACP, a DRE “need[s] to know the result of the suspect's breath alcohol test,” because this allows the DRE to determine whether alcohol accounts for the impairment.

2. Interview with the Arresting Officer

The next step a DRE takes is to interview the arresting officer. The IACP asserts this “allows the DRE to gain insight on the suspect's driving, conduct at roadside, and their performance of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).” Of course, this can bias the DRE for all of the other steps in the process. The reason a DRE is typically called to the scene is because the arresting officer thought someone was driving while impaired, yet their breath alcohol test came back below the legal limit.

3. The Preliminary Examination

In the preliminary examination, the DRE checks for evidence of known medical complications that might merit terminating the evaluation and instead requesting needed medical assistance. The suspect is asked a standard list of questions about their health, as well as questions about recent ingestion of food, drugs, alcohol, and any prescribed medications. The DRE then observes such features as:

  • A suspect's attitude
  • Breath
  • Coordination
  • Facer
  • And speech.

Pupils are examined to determine if they are of equal size. Subjects are asked to track moving objects, to see if the eyes track equally. They are checked for horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN). Their pulse it taken. After this somewhat cursory examination, the DRE either continues with the exam, or calls for medical assistance.

4. Eye Examination

In addition to HGN, the subject is examined for vertical gaze Nystagmus (BGN), as well as additional evidence of a lack of convergence.

5. Divided Attention Psychophysical Tests

There are four tests the DRE puts the subject through:

  • Modified Romberg Balance
  • Walk and Turn
  • One Leg Stand
  • Finger to Nose Test.

These field sobriety tests are designed, as the title would suggest, to require a subject to perform tasks, with divided attention. For example, with the one leg stand, a subject is asked to both stand on one leg and perform a counting exercise. This requires both balance and attention to the counting.

6. Vital Signs and Pulse

The DRE again takes the subject's pulse, blood pressure, and temperature.

7. Dark Room Examinations

In the dark room examinations, the DRE examines a person's pupils under three different types of lighting conditions. For each lighting condition, the DRE examines a person's pupil size using a measuring device called a pupilometer. Next, the DRE calculates pupil size, using the following categories:

  • Dilated
  • Normal
  • Constricted.

8. Examination for Muscle Tone

Because some categories of drugs make muscles loose and flaccid, and other drug categories make muscles rigid, a muscle tone exam is performed. The DRE documents their observations.

9. Check for Injection Sites and Pulse

At this point, the DRE takes the pulse for the third time. They also check for common injection sites. The belief is this may indicate a certain type of drug use.

10. Subject's Statement and Other Observations

Taking the subject's statement is a common part of police work in any investigation. During the DRE's time with the subject, they will ask about drug use, both historically and recently. Of course, this should only be done after a Miranda warning is provided.

11. Analysis and Opinions of the Evaluator

Once these steps have been taken, the DRE is to form an opinion about whether or not the subject is impaired. If the DRE does in fact come to the conclusion the subject is impaired, the DRE is to determine which category of drugs contributed to the impairment. This opinion should then be documented.

12. Toxicological Exam

Once this conclusion has been made, the government typically takes a blood, urine, or saliva sample for the subject. This sample is sent to a toxicological lab for further analysis. The lab will then issue a report, detailing their findings.

Challenging the DRE

The DRE process is inherently problematic. It is highly subjective and interpretive, especially with respect to step no. 2. Interview with an Arresting Officer. Step no. 2 allows the arresting officer to influence the examiner's opinion before the examiner has a chance to complete all the steps of the evaluation. This step is just one of many problems. So, you should know that your DRE evaluation can be challenged in court.

Challenges can be made with respect to the methods and the conclusions of the DRE, the collection and handling of any forensic sample, and the interpretations of the blood test and urine test results, when it is appropriate in your case.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is presuming the government doesn't make mistakes when charging people with drug related DUI charges. Contact our Roswell-Alpharetta drug DUI attorneys to review your case today. Our attorneys focus exclusively on DUI cases. Let us put our vast experience to work for you.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Richard S. Lawson is passionate about intoxicated driving defense. Unlike some attorneys, Mr. Lawson devotes 100% of his legal practice to helping people stand up for their rights against DUI charges. For more than 20 years, Mr. Lawson has dutifully fought for his clients' freedom, resolving more 4,900 impaired driving cases during the course of his career. Today, Mr. Lawson has developed a reputation as a skilled negotiator and continues to help clients by fighting to keep them out of jail.


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