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What is a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)?

In New Jersey, it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police have tools, like the Breathalyzer, to measure the amount of alcohol in a driver's blood. However, determining whether a driver is under the influence of drugs - and whether those drugs have caused impaired driving - is more difficult.

In the 1970s the Los Angeles Police Department created a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program to help officers determine whether a driver was under the influence of drugs. This program is currently being used by New Jersey police.

What is the DRE program?

After an arrest has been made for suspected DUI/DWI, a DRE will be called in to determine whether drug intoxication is present. The DRE follows a 12-step process to determine whether an individual is under the influence of drugs and identify the type of drug involved. The steps include:

  1. Breath Alcohol Test to rule out alcohol
  2. Interview with the arresting officer to learn his/her observations during arrest
  3. Examination of the suspect and takes his/her pulse to rule out an injury or medical condition unrelated to drug use
  4. Eye examination to search for horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) and vertical gaze nystagmus (VGN) or lack of ocular convergence
  5. Psychophysical tests (often used as field sobriety test) including the walk and turn, one-leg stand, finger-to-nose, and balance tests
  6. Check of vital signs and second pulse check
  7. Pupil checks in different lighting conditions
  8. Muscle tone examination
  9. A search for injection sites and a third pulse check
  10. Interview with the suspect after reading Miranda warnings, including questioning about drug use
  11. DRE analyzes all information and develops opinion regarding drug intoxication
  12. Toxicological examination, including urine, blood and saliva testing

How DREs impact your case

A determination by a DRE of drug use is not a guilty verdict. It is simply the opinion of one person. However, the DRE will work with police and prosecutors in an attempt to increase the likelihood of a conviction. The best thing you can do for yourself is to contact an attorney. You have the right to a lawyer while the DRE is performing his or her evaluation. An experienced defense attorney will also be able to challenge the accuracy of the DRE's opinion and undermine the reliability of toxicology testing.

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