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Refuting a drug recognition expert in court

Drug recognition experts are specifically trained law officers used to identify drivers who are impaired by drugs, not alcohol.

If you're pulled over for suspected inebriation and the Breathalyzer is normal, you may find yourself subject to an exam by a DRE next. Drug recognition experts have come into being because there's no simple roadside test that can determine the presence of all the possible different drugs that could be in someone's system at a level high enough to make a driver impaired.

Tagging the word "expert" onto their title gives a lot of weight in court hearings to what still, in the end, comes down to an individual officer's opinions. Although the methods DREs use are supposed to be scientific, it's still a questionable process, and it still can be refuted in court.

Look at just two ways that a DRE's "expertise" can be challenged in court:

-- Your attorney can demonstrate the DRE's lack of actual understanding of the science behind the methods he or she was taught to use. Most DREs aren't really experts at all -- they're very good students who have learned exactly what they've been taught, but that education doesn't extend much further than the steps they should take during the evaluations of a driver suspected of being impaired and the statistics they are taught to cite in support of their methods' reliability.

Does the DRE know the real data behind those statistics? How many people were studied? What controls were used? Were they tested at the side of the road in a surprise examination or during a controlled lab experiment? How could that effect the results?

-- Your attorney can establish that, despite his or her title, the officer is still just a police officer, not a medical professional. He or she lacks the years of training that a medical professional has when it comes to picking up subtle physiological signs that indicate drug use versus just nervousness and stress or even a common condition like low blood sugar. Your attorney can elicit testimony about the DRE's training, whether it was done by doctors or other police officers, and whether or not it included ways to tell the difference between drug use and other common conditions.

Never assume that your DUI charge is hopeless without speaking to an attorney first. We'll discuss more ways a DRE's opinion can be challenged in another post.

Source: The International Drug Evaluation & Classification Program, "What They Do," accessed Feb. 14, 2017

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