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What Does a Drug Recognition Expert Do?

Posted by Christopher Martens | Sep 14, 2016 | 0 Comments

Recognizing Influence

Some people don't realize that California's DUI laws apply to driving under the influence of both drugs and/or alcohol. In fact, it is illegal to drive under the influence of any controlled substance. A DUI for driving under the influence of drugs is also called a drug DUI or drugged driving. Although the act of driving under the influence and the charge of DUI are the same, the evidence in drugged driving cases and the prosecution's argument will differ from those in an alcohol DUI case. For example, in lieu of taking a blood alcohol concentration test, a drug recognition expert, also called drug recognition evaluator, may need to assess the defendant to determine if he or she is under the influence of any substance other than alcohol.

Some drugs can show up in blood tests, however not all enter and leave your system at the same rate alcohol does. This causes some problems when it comes to determining whether a defendant was under the influence at the time they were driving. To test someone for driving under the influence of drugs, a drug recognition expert, or DRE, will look for behavioral and physiological signs the driver is under the influence. They do so by using standardized, systematic methods for drug impairment recognition recognized by researchers and medical professionals.

DREs are trained to detect drug impairment or influence. They do so through a 12-step method, which seeks to identify behavioral and physiological signs of drug influence or impairment. The steps include:

  1. A blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, breathalyzer test (to rule out alcohol impairment; usually performed by a standard-duty officer
  1. Interviewing the standard-duty arresting officer (about the suspect's demeanor and behaviors and other signs of impairment)
  1. Preliminary Physical Examination (to check for pulse, recent medical history, and other symptoms and signs of impairment, injury, or a medical condition (e.g. skin tone, speech, poor coordination))
  1. Eye examination (e.g. horizontal gaze nystagmus, eye coordination)
  1. Psychological tests (to check for divided attention)
  1. Vital Signs (including pulse again)
  1. Darkroom examinations (checking for pupil reactivity to light and signs of drug ingestion)
  1. Muscle tone examination (e.g. rigid or loose)
  1. Injection site identification and pulse again
  1. Interrogate suspect (after reading the Miranda Warning)
  1. Summary evaluation (here the DRE makes a determination on whether or not the suspect was impaired)
  1. Toxicology analysis (if the DRE determines the suspect was mostly likely impaired by drugs)

It's clear to see why the validity of a report from a DRE may be questioned. Some of the test results will rely on the DRE's subjective opinion. While one DRE may recognize rigid or relaxed muscles, another may not. One DRE may detect a difficulty with divided attention while another may not. Because of this, the methods DREs use are highly regulated. Even so, some of the signs DREs look for can easily be signs of any number of other medical states and conditions, and this may be missed on the DRE during the evaluation. While they are trained professionals, many of the methods with which they test for impairment are not conclusive. Many tests need to be done, hence the 12-step method. It is the total evaluation of all the test results that lead a DRE to make a legal determination. This is less precise than simply having a suspect blow a sample into a breathalyzer. A skilled attorney can challenge DRE evaluations in court due to this inherent inexactness, sometimes successfully. In fact, parties in both law enforcement and criminal defense have questioned the scientific validity of DRE evaluations. Some have called for an end to these imprecise tests while others have pointed out it is the best way to check for drug impairment.

If you are facing a drugged driving DUI charge, speak with an experienced California DUI defense attorney about your case. It is important to understand what the evidence against you is, and an attorney can obtain a copy of the case reports to help you do this. The evidence a DRE may have produced can be challenged in court. Many medical conditions can mimic signs of drug impairment. These should not be held against you in a DUI case, but you may need the help of a skilled attorney to argue that point in court.

Do you have questions about charges for drugged driving? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in DUI defense, our Visalia area legal team can help you face your charges and fight for your rights. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense and has the experienced needed to skillfully handle your case. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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