Drug Recognition Experts: An Effective Tool or Junk Science?

Imagine a situation where someone is driving erratically, crossing over lanes, swerving, and seems to be impaired.  Police pull this driver over and does a field sobriety test which includes a breathalyzer, but no alcohol is detected in their system because the driver didn’t drink alcohol, but took drugs instead.   If it seems the driver seems impaired, but not drunk, can police still arrest the driver?  Can police test the driver for drugs?  What does DUI actually mean?  For most people, the first thing that comes to mind is drinking and driving.  However, if someone is driving under the influence of drugs, they can be charged with a DUI as well.  But how can police tell if you are driving under the influence of drugs?  Police have struggled with these questions and did not have systematic test for certain drug use.  That is until now.

Central Ohio police have started a new drug recognition program which is aimed at solving the problem of detecting drivers who might be driving under the influence.  There are many questions still need to be answered, but here is a quick guide on what you should know right now about this new program.

Is this the first program of this type?
According to the International Drug Evaluation and Assessment (DRE) program, drug recognition evaluation programs initially began in the early 70’s in Los Angeles.  LA police were frustrated by the lack of screening procedures for drug use and initiated the first DRE program, which was then piloted in several states across the country.  Currently, 43 states, the District of Columbia, three branches of the military, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) participate in a DRE program.

How are DRE agents trained and how effective are the tests?
According to 10TV.com, 71 troopers, deputies and officers underwent three weeks of training to become certified DRE agents including Franklin County sheriff’s deputies, and officers in Columbus, Dublin, Westerville and on the Ohio State University campus. (June 9, 2013.  Law Enforcement Using New Training To Recognize Drug Use).  Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Wesley Stought stated that DREs are “86 percent accurate in their evaluations.”

What does the DRE test involve?
DRE’s attempt to screen for drugs that would not otherwise show up in blood test but still impair drivers.  For example, certain drugs, like inhalants, do not last in the system long enough to be detected in blood work, and would not trigger a positive blow test (which tests for alcohol).  Police are trained in a series of tests which examine a number of factors such as pupil dilation, series of pulse rates, blood pressure changes, responsiveness to questions, muscle tone and checking for injection sites.  All the information gathered is evaluated by the police to determine if there is adequate probable cause for a DUI charge.  If probable cause is found then the police can (and most likely will) arrest the driver.

Do I have to take the test?
No.  Refusing to participate in the drug recognition testing does not have the same potential impact as refusing breathalyzer tests.   If you refuse certain breathalyzer tests your drivers license might automatically be suspended. (for more information, see ” Frequently Asked Ohio DUI / OVI Questions “).  However, you can refuse to participate in the drug recognition test without getting an automatic suspension.

What about legal drugs?  Prescription drugs?
It is not clear if taking prescription drugs could lead to a “false positive”.  What is known is that any number of prescription drugs (both ingested and injectable) alter bodily functions such as heart rate, pupil dilation, and blood pressure-all of which are factors in the police drug detection test.   If you have been arrested for a DUI, it is important to make sure your case is fully evaluated by an experienced attorney.

I have been arrested for DUI, now what?
Whether you have been arrested for DUI for suspicion of drugs or alcohol, it is important to hire an attorney to handle the case.  Even if you took a breathalyzer test for feel you “failed” a DRE test remember these test are still not fool proof. It is vital to have your case evaluated by an attorney.   Having a strong defense will increase your chances of a more positive result.


If you would like your case evaluated, contract W. Joseph Edwards at 614.309.0243.  Available 24/7
Joseph Edwards has handled hundreds of DUI cases and has over 30 years of experience in criminal defense.  It is important to have your case evaluated regardless of how much evidence you believe is against you.  Experienced attorneys, like Joseph Edwards, will give you the best shot of a strong defense.



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