Can drug recognition experts really tell if you’re impaired?

This question is the subject of litigation. Drug recognition experts, or DREs, are typically police officers who have completed additional training. The claim is that they, unlike ordinary officers or regular people, can recognize certain signs of drug intoxication. However, some of the techniques they use are highly questionable.

Have you been pulled over and accused of DUI-drugs? It’s possible to be charged and convicted of DUI based on the influence of any drug, legal or illegal. If the drug impairs you and you drive, you could face DUI charges.

But police officers need probable cause to do a blood test to confirm you have drugs in your system. In order to get probable cause, they often employ DREs to get a read on whether a person is affected by drugs.

There is a 12-step DRE protocol, but it is not very scientifically based. In one lawsuit, the ACLU accused the state of Georgia of using a “watered-down version” of the protocol — basically allowing so-called DREs to perform a series of modified field sobriety tests and rely on the results for probable cause.

Green coating on the tongue?

Some of the tests DREs perform, such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, have long been used to gauge alcohol intoxication (though inadmissible in Tennessee) but have no scientific validation as a test for other drugs. In some cases, DREs use tests that simply aren’t accurate — such as looking for a green coating on the tongue as an indicator of marijuana use.

When a DRE finds evidence of drug intoxication, it may be no more than a hunch. Some DREs receive better training than others, but most of the training is questionable.

Once a DRE certifies that they have found evidence of intoxication, the person who was pulled over is generally taken to a medical facility for a drug test to confirm the DRE’s suspicion. In a surprising number of cases, these tests come back negative.

However, long before the test results come back, the defendant is under substantial pressure to plead guilty based on the DRE’s proposed testimony. If you have been accused of driving under the influence of drugs based on the statement of a DRE, don’t let the pressure to plead guilty get to you. Instead, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can challenge the validity of the DRE’s statement.

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