Drug Recognition Experts

Drug Recognition Experts

When a person is suspected of driving under the influence, law enforcement officers are tasked with determining the level of the driver's intoxication. In many instances, a person could be asked to submit to a breath test if he or she is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. If a person is intoxicated by a controlled substance, an officer trained in detecting drug use could be required.

Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs, are police officers who have undergone extensive training to recognize drivers who are under the influence of drugs or narcotics. Rather than simply administering a chemical test of a person's breath at a traffic stop, these officers must use other tactics to determine if the driver is under the influence of a drug.

The DRE program is used by law enforcement agencies throughout the country.There are a series of steps a person must complete before he or she can become a DRE.

One of the major aspects of DRE training is two weeks of classroom instruction. This allows the officer to study the seven drug categories, eye examinations and conducting the field sobriety tests. Officers also learn the examination of vital signs, case preparation, courtroom testimony and Curriculum Vitae preparation.

Officers then are required to take a written examination and pass with a score of 80 percent or higher. They also must complete 12 evaluations on drug-impaired subjects under the supervision of a trained DRE. The officers must identify a person under the influence of at least three of the seven drug categories and earn a minimum 75 percent toxicological corroboration rate.

For the final step, an officer must pass a knowledge examination and be approved by two DRE instructors. If the officer completes the requirements, he or she becomes "certified" by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, or the IACP.

The DRE evaluation involves a 12-step process that officers must administer if they suspect a person of driving under the influence of a drug or narcotic. The officer cannot make a conclusion based on one aspect of the steps, but on the overall process.

The 12-step process can include:

1. A breath alcohol test;
2. Interview of the arresting officer;
3. Medical evaluation to determine if the impairment is the result of a medical impairment;
4. Examination of the eyes, such as a horizontal gaze nystagmus;
5. Divided attention psychophysical tests, including the one-leg stand and finger-to-nose test;
6. Examination of vital signs, including pulse rates, blood pressure and temperature;
7. Dark room examination to estimate the suspect's pupil size;
8. Examination of muscle tone;
9. Examination for injection sites;
10. Questioning the suspect and documenting his or her statements;
11. Documenting observations and opinions of the evaluator; and
12. Blood or urine tests to determine intoxication level.

Once the assessment is complete, the officer can make some sort of conclusion as to whether the driver is impaired by a controlled substance and, if so, what the substance would be. This determination then could be used in charging the person with a DUID or even as evidence in the case. Drivers still can fight these charges, and an experienced drugged driving attorney can help.

David Coolidge is a criminal defense lawyer and founder of Coolidge Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. David represents clients facing criminal charges such as DWI, drugged driving, marijuana offenses, drug charges and more in the Research Triangle and surrounding communities. He has extensive knowledge of drunk and drugged driving cases, and he has taken several courses on field sobriety testing and DWI cases.


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