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What is A Drug Recognition Expert?

Florida’s DUI statute is not limited to alcohol. You do not have to be impaired by alcohol to be charged with DUI.

Florida’s DUI statute permits the arrest and prosecution of an individual suspected of driving while under the influence of chemical substances. This means drugs.

So how do the police determine that you are on drugs?

If the stop officer doesn’t suspect impairment by alcohol (no smell of alcohol or other signs of alcohol impairment) or the officer believes that you may be under the influence of drugs, they will call in a DRE. A drug recognition expert.

A DRE is a cop who has been trained in identifying signs of drug impairment. Keep in mind - this “expert” is not a medical professional nor do they have any proper medical training. The DRE is a cop who has taken some classes, the completion of which will designate you a drug recognition expert. Are they truly an expert? Likely the answer is no.

In this DUI lawyer’s opinion, drug recognition is quack science, no different that drinking snake oil to cure what ails you.

However, like all police quack science, there are measures that must be followed in order to make it somewhat reliable. All DREs must follow a 12-step process.

There should be a breath test to rule out alcohol. However, a subject may refuse to submit to a breath test.

A DRE should interview the arresting officer to find out details about the stop, such as driving pattern, as well as the officer’s observations of the subject.

The DRE will conduct a preliminary examination and check the pulse of the subject. The DRE will ask a series of questions, and check the pulse of the subject three times.

The DRE will check the pupils for dilation. Both the HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus) and VGN (vertical gaze nystagmus) tests will be conducted to check for tracking of the eyes.

The DRE will conduct divided attention tests such as the Walk & Turn, One Leg Stand, Finger To Nose, and Rhomberg Balance (stand on one leg).

The DRE will check vital signs and pulse again.

The DRE will check the pupils and their response to darkness and bright light.

DRE will test subject’s muscle tone.

The DRE will check for injection sites and will take the subject’s pulse again.

If the subject agrees to speak to the DRE, the subject may make a statement and answer the DRE’s questions.

The DRE will then form an opinion.

The DRE will then try to obtain a blood or urine sample.

A police officer, not a doctor or medical professional, simply checking pupils and pulse rates doesn’t rise to the level of expert analysis. Furthermore, you may refuse to participate in field sobriety tests as well as you may refuse a urine test.

If the DRE doesn’t follow all steps in the 12-step process, their analysis is flawed and should be ripe for cross-examination.

Eric Matheny is a Miami DUI lawyer and Broward DUI lawyer.