Drug Recognition Experts

Question: What is a DRE?

Answer: A DRE is a Drug Recognition Expert.

The concept of a drug recognition expert was developed by law enforcement to identify people who they believe were under the influence of drugs. Drug recognition experts will testify that they can, with some certainty, tell whether or not a driver is under the influence of drugs based on certain physical signs. They will say that they can do this due to their completion of a three-phase training program that included 72 hours of classroom training, and a period of field training that lasted up to 90 days before they were certified. This sounds very impressive.

If you are pulled over and the arresting officer thinks that you are impaired or intoxicated, that officer will perform field sobriety tests (horizontal gaze nystagmus, count and turn, etc.) and administer an Alco-Sensor test. If the Alco-Sensor test comes back negative, the officer will probably call another officer who is certified as a DRE to examine you. The DRE may also administer the field sobriety test and Alco-Sensor test. If you still appear under the influence of a drug but alcohol isn’t in your system, the DRE will perform an examination.

A few of the tactics in a DRE’s examination arsenal are somewhat obvious. For example, they will inspect your exposed skin for needle marks. If you have track marks, the DRE may unsurprisingly deduce that you are using heroin. A DRE will also inspect your nose and mouth area. If the DRE finds traces of white powder, or redness, or a lack of hair inside your nose, they may deduce that the person is using cocaine.

Other tactics are much less obvious, and are more open to attack by your lawyer on cross examination. For example, based on your behavior, the DRE will attempt to deduce whether you have been taking one of seven categories of drugs: (1) depressants, (2) stimulants, (3) hallucinogens, (4) PCP, (5) narcotic pain killers, (6) inhalants, and (7) marijuana. As you can imagine, there are a myriad of problems with making this type of guesswork. For starters, PCP acts as both a stimulant and hallucinogenic, yet the DRE is attempting to distinguish which of the three you have taken. Another problem is that any of the symptoms you may be displaying could have other, lawful explanations. For example, a person experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) could be experiencing many of the symptoms that the DRE is looking for.

As you can imagine, it is very difficult to observe a person and then, based on that observation, make a determination as to what, if any, drugs they may be taking. An experienced defense attorney can cross-examine drug recognition experts on the stand and point out flaws in their methodology, flaws in the results of their work, and call into question whether or not their training did anything at all to enhance their particular ability to identify people under the influence of drugs.

The ability to cross-examine a DRE on the stand is crucial if you're charged with DWAI Drugs. If you are facing a DWAI-Drugs charge, contact Jeannie D. Michalski, LLP for a free DWI consultation at our office in either Brighton or Avon. We have successfully helped people beat these cases in the past, and we want to help you too.