Call Us: 202-630-0939

The Role of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) in DC DUI Cases

Discover how Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) impact DUI cases in DC and learn how Scrofano Law PC can assist if you’re facing DUI charges.

Imagine being stopped by the police in DC and accused of driving under the influence of drugs. A Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) steps in to determine the types of drugs you might have used; DREs are pivotal in DUI cases because they provide focused assessments that regular officers cannot. Their experience includes recognizing signs of drug impairment that aren’t always obvious.

In the District of Columbia, DREs follow a 12-step process to identify impairment. This process helps them pinpoint which drug categories affect the driver. With over 8,000 DREs across the US and a robust program in place for their training and deployment, their role is crucial in ensuring that impaired drivers are accurately identified and properly charged.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI involving drugs, navigating the complexities of your case can be overwhelming. A dedicated DC DUI lawyer can help you challenge the DRE’s findings and defend your rights in court. Understanding what a DRE looks for and how DRE agents operate can be the first step in building a strong defense.

At Scrofano Law PC, we’re ready to help you. Schedule a consultation today if you’re facing a DUI charge. 

The Role of DREs in Modern DUI Enforcement

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) defines Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), or drug recognition evaluators, as “a police officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol.” 

We understand the complexity that comes with detecting drug impairment, which presents unique challenges compared to alcohol detection.

DREs use a structured and systematic process to assess impairment. This protocol includes interviewing the suspect, examining physiological signs, and conducting psychophysical tests, as detailed by the IACP. 

Key Steps in DRE Evaluation:

  1. Interview: Gathering initial observations and statements.
  2. Physical Examination: Checking pupil size, eye movement, and muscle tone.
  3. Psychophysical Tests: Assessing balance, coordination, and mental state.

One challenge law enforcement agents face in modern DUI enforcement is the variety of drugs that can impair drivers. Unlike alcohol, which has established limits and testing methods, drugs require more nuanced and thorough evaluations, as detailed by the National Library of Medicine

DREs undergo extensive training to recognize signs of drug impairment. They are skilled at interpreting subtle indicators that standard field sobriety tests might miss.

7-Drug Categories Detected by DREs:

  • Depressants 
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Dissociative Anesthetics 
  • Narcotic Analgesics 
  • Inhalants
  • Cannabis 

DREs also play a crucial role in collecting and preserving evidence. Their observations and findings can significantly impact the outcome of a DUI case as they provide detailed and professional assessments of the suspect’s impairment.

With the growing concern over drug-impaired driving, DREs have become an invaluable resource. Their work helps law enforcement agencies ensure safer roads and more effective DUI enforcement. For more detailed insight, refer to the following article published by the US Department of Justice titled “Drug Recognition Experts: Public Safety Resource.”

The 12-Step Evaluation Process

The 12-step evaluation process is vital in assessing drivers for drug impairment. This comprehensive procedure ensures a thorough examination.

  1. Breath Alcohol Test: Agents start with examining the breath alcohol concentration (BAC) to check if alcohol alone is the cause of impairment.
  2. Interview of Arresting Officer: Then they talk to the arresting officer to gather more context about the initial observations.
  3. Preliminary Examination and First Pulse: This step involves checking for medical conditions that might mimic drug impairment. According to the IACP, “The DRE observes the subject’s attitude, coordination, speech, breath, and face.” 
  4. Eye Exam: The DRE conducts an eye exam for nystagmus and other signs of drug influence.
  5. Divided Attention Tests: These tests, such as the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand, and finger-to-nose text, assess the driver’s ability to multitask, a key indicator of impairment.
  6. Vital Signs and Second Pulse: Agents will check blood pressure, temperature, and pulse to detect anomalies that may indicate drug use.
  7. Dark Room Examinations: The DRE examines pupil sizes under different lighting conditions to identify drug categories affecting the driver.
  8. Muscle Tone: Different drugs affect muscle tone, either making it more rigid or flaccid, offering clues to the type of drug used.
  9. Injection Sites Check: Inspecting for signs of drug injection provides additional physical evidence of substance use.
  10. Subject’s Statements: Collecting statements and observing behavior provide further insights into drug influence.
  11. Analysis and Opinions of the Evaluator: The evaluator forms an educated opinion on impairment based on all gathered data. According to the IACP, “The DRE will indicate what category or categories of drugs may have contributed to the subject’s impairment.” 
  12. Toxicological Examination: Finally, DREs conduct laboratory tests to confirm the presence of drugs.

This method ensures that drug impairment is accurately identified, which is crucial given the difference between alcohol and drug-related DUI. Each step sheds light on the driver’s condition, supporting law enforcement in making informed decisions.

Legal Implications and Rights

When a driver is stopped for a suspected DUI and subjected to a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluation, there are significant legal implications. The results from a DRE evaluation can be used as evidence in court, or as detailed by the US Department of Justice, “Through the DRE training, law enforcement has the means to identify drug impaired drivers and collect evidence to prosecute them.” This means they can heavily influence the outcome of a DUI case, and the results are also entered into a DRE database.

As DUI attorneys, it’s crucial for us to understand people’s rights in this situation.

For example, drivers have the right to refuse a DRE evaluation, knowing it might lead to immediate arrest or other penalties. Any consent to tests should be given voluntarily and without coercion. Also, when subjected to a DRE evaluation, it’s in the driver’s best interest to ask to speak with an attorney. 

In Washington, DC, evidence from a DRE can be debated in court. This can include questioning the DRE’s qualifications or the accuracy of the evaluation. Legal representation can offer valuable insight and defense to challenge these evaluations if necessary.

Understanding these rights helps us, as DUI attorneys, navigate the complexities of DUI cases involving DRE evaluations. It’s crucial that people are aware of both the legal implications and their protections.

Challenging DRE Testimony in Court

Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) testimony often plays a crucial role in DUI cases. Yet, the reliability of this testimony can be contested. One way to challenge it is by questioning the scientific basis and methodology of the twelve-step protocol used by DREs; as noted by a study done by the University of Vermont, though the accuracy of DRE professionals is high, it can be tested.  

Common Challenges and Defenses:

  • Scientific Reliability: The lack of consistent scientific validation behind some of the DRE procedures can be highlighted. This includes questioning the validity of the results obtained through the twelve-step process described in the New Jersey v. Olenowski case.
  • Human Error and Bias: We might underscore potential biases or errors that could affect the DRE’s observations and conclusions. 
  • Alternative Explanations: Presenting other medical or physiological conditions that could mimic impairment symptoms can be a strong defensive strategy. Step 3 of the 12-step process mentions this possibility. 

At Scrofano Law PC, we understand the complexities of challenging DRE testimony. Our legal team is ready to scrutinize every detail of the DRE process to build a strong defense and diligently contests any flaws or weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

Get DUI Charge Defense from Scrofano Law PC

Facing a DUI charge can be overwhelming. At Scrofano Law PC, we understand the complexities involved. Our skilled attorneys provide experienced defense for DUI and drug-related cases in Washington, DC, and focus on criminal defense, ensuring you receive knowledgeable representation.

Our principal attorney, Joseph A. Scrofano, has litigated over a thousand cases, and has repeatedly highlighted his work.  

We believe in personalized legal strategies. No two cases are identical, and we tailor our approach to meet your specific needs. We provide focused defense for those facing charges involving Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). DREs play a significant role in determining impairment, and our team knows how to challenge their findings effectively.

Should you need a committed and professional defense, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation. At Scrofano Law PC, we’re here to fight for your rights and protect your future.


We Fight For Your Rights