In recent years, Georgia’s law enforcement agencies have cracked down on DUI—and more and more drivers find themselves facing the consequences of driving under the influence as a result. Along with detecting drivers impaired by alcohol, officers are also focusing on identifying those under the influence of drugs. In order to do this, many law enforcement officials now undergo training to learn how to spot impaired drivers and earn the title of Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).
History of DRE
When field sobriety test research was done in 1977, little attention to DUI-drugs as a type of driving while intoxicated. In fact, Dr. Marcelline Burns and her team did NOT even screen the 238 test subjects for possible use of any prescription medications or illicit drugs. One would expect a significant percentage of Southern California “volunteers” in the 1970’s to have SOME type of drugs in their bloodstream.
Two decades later, officers were reporting many drivers who were not impaired by alcohol, but showed signs of slowed responses, ataxia or even slurred speech. Yet, the standardized field sobriety test battery had no ability to screen anyone for DUI-drugs.
Government studies have revealed that many drivers are under the influence of drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. To combat this, an effort has been mounted since the early 1990’s to add some type of training to the police officer’s arsenal that will assist in identifying drug-impaired individuals. Hence, NHTSA has created the “Drug Evaluation and Classification” (DEC) Program. A DEC officer does not typically work in the field (i.e., making traffic arrests), or make the initial arrest of an impaired driver. A DEC officer is called in after a subject either shows a low score on an alcohol test, or otherwise ‘smells’ like or ‘acts’ like he/she has been using drugs.
While there are legal guidelines specifying the amount of alcohol a driver can have in his or her system, there are no such limits for drugs. With the number of drugs available today, it would be practically impossible to define a limit for each one or to take each person’s different medical needs into account. As such, there is no scientific way to determine whether a person’s ability to drive is truly impaired.
Unfortunately, this means that despite the fancy title, a Drug Recognition Expert relies solely on subjective information—primarily personal observations and opinions—to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs. As a result, the so-called “expert’s” opinion is not always correct. In fact, studies indicate that, even after completing the required training program, officers have little more than a 50/50 chance of correctly determining whether a driver is impaired.
Science: The Legal Standard
Georgia law requires any test or technique used to establish guilt in criminal court to meet a scientific stage of verifiable certainty. In alcohol-related DUI cases, blood and urine tests meet this requirement, as does the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (the test requiring you to follow a pen or other small object with your eyes). However, the traits Drug Recognition Experts are trained to look for—like body tremors and bloodshot eyes—have not been deemed reliable for determining impairment. As such, many drivers are able to prove that the evidence against them is insufficient and get their DUI charges dismissed.
More about DRE Evaluations
To learn more about Drug Recognition Experts or to discuss the ideal approach for your case, contact Kohn & Yager today. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys have a proven record of success. Complete our short online form to receive a free consultation on your case and a free download of the first chapter of The DUI Book.