What is a Drug Recognition Expert?

A Drug Recognition Expert is a police officer trained to determine whether a driver is impaired by drugs. The science behind what Drug Recognition Experts do is flimsy to say the least.

The officer is supposed to run a battery of tests on the driver to determine:

  • Whether the person’s ability to drive is impaired and,
  • Which type of drug has caused the impairment if unknown.

The officer may believe a driver is impaired by drugs but not know which type of drug has caused impairment. The driver’s blood sample will be tested by the Michigan State Police Laboratory for specific drugs.

Drug Impairment

It is against the law to drive with any amount of a schedule I substance or cocaine in your system.

However, it is not against the law to drive with all other drugs in your system so long as your ability to drive is not negatively affected. That’s what the DRE is trying to determine: Whether you ability to drive in a normal manner has been affected by taking drugs.

Search for Drugs

The officer must determine which type of drug has impaired a driver to request the MSP to search for that specific type of drug in the driver’s blood.

The Lab does not simply test a driver’s blood for every type of drug under the sun. The Lab tests first for alcohol, then cannabis, and then whichever specific types of drugs the officer requests.

For example, an officer who believes a driver is impaired by heroin would have to specifically ask the MSP Lab to test the blood for heroin, or else the Lab will not test for heroin in the blood.

Drug Categories

The Drug Recognition Experts divide intoxicating drugs into seven different categories. The DRE then tries to determine which category of drugs has impaired a driver. The seven different categories are below. Click on one of the drug categories to see the DRE evaluation for the specific drug group:

The 12 Steps of Drug Detection by a DRE

The DRE will conduct a 12 step test of the driver to determine impairment. The steps are:

  1. Breath Alcohol Test – The officer will begin by giving a breath test for alcohol. The DRE may end the examination if the breath test reveals a BAC of over .08. A BAC of over .08 means a person is legally intoxicated.
  2. Interview of the Arresting Officer – The DRE asks the arresting officer questions related to the driving, arrest, and situation. For example, were there drugs found in the search of the car? Did the driver makes statements related to drug use? What was the behavior of the driver?
  3. Preliminary Examination and First Pulse – The DRE must determine whether the driver is suffering from an injury or medical condition unrelated to drug impairment. The DRE asks questions about drug, prescription meds, food, and alcohol intake. The examination ends if the DRE determines the person is suffering from a medical condition. The driver’s pulse is taken for the first time.
  4. Eye Examination – The DRE performs several eye-related tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, vertical gaze nystagmus, and lack of convergence.
  5. Divided Attention Psychophysical tests- These tests include the walk and turn, stand on one leg, Modified Rromberg test, and finger to nose test.
  6. Vital Signs and Pulse – The DRE takes the driver’s pulse, temperature, and blood pressure.
  7. Dark Room Examination – The DRE measures the pupil size in the eye under three different lighting conditions. The pupils may become bigger or smaller from the ingestion of drugs.
  8. Examination of Muscle Tone – Certain drugs may make muscle tone either more rigid or relaxed.
  9. Check for Injection Sites and Third Pulse – The DRE searches for areas on the body where drugs may have been injected. Also, the DRE take the driver’s pulse for the third time.
  10. Subject’s Statements and Other Observations – The DRE asks the driver a series of questions related to drug use. The DRE should have read Miranda prior to starting or at least prior to these questions. Many people of course freely speak to the officers regarding their drug use, and this is direct evidence the DRE will use in the exam and in court later.
  11. Analysis and Opinion of Evaluator – The DRE decides whether the driver is impaired by drugs, and determines which category of drugs caused the impairment.
  12. Toxicology Test – the DRE requests the person take a blood test if a blood test has not been requested and performed at this point. The blood then is sent to the MSP Lab to be analyzed

How Accurate is the DRE?

Drug Recognition Experts are required to keep logs regarding accuracy. At the end of the exam, the DRE records their predictions as to which drug caused impairment. Following the blood analysis, the DRE then records which drugs were present in the driver’s system. These logs may be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Are Drug Recognition Experts Really Experts?

Michigan law allows a DRE to provide an opinion to a jury on whether a driver was impaired by drugs. Whether a DRE is truly an “expert” under a scientific-legal standard has not yet been litigated and decided in a published higher court opinion in Michigan. Stay tuned for updates.

Call us at 734.883.9584

Call Sam Bernstein at 734.883.9584 or e-mail at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com.

Sam Bernstein is a DUI Lawyer in Ann Arbor

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108

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