Defending Against DRE Testimony

In 1979, the Los Angeles Police Department officially adopted a Drug Recognition Expert program, which was designed to train officers to recognize the symptoms of drug use and identify which categories of drugs a suspect may have ingested. Today, this program is used by law enforcement agencies in almost every state, including Michigan.

Every year, more and more officers attend the three-week drug recognition program to receive certification as Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs for short. These so-called “experts” then go back to their jurisdictions and proceed to arrest and levy criminal charges against citizens based on a non-scientific 12-step drug recognition procedure .

These officers may be called to the scene of drunk driving investigations if the arresting officer believes the driver to be under the influence of a substance other than alcohol. DREs may also be considered expert witnesses when testifying in drug-related operating while intoxicated (OWI), operating with a presence of controlled substance (OWPCS) or operating while visibly impaired (OWVI) trials.

These officers also offer “expert” testimony during impaired driving cases, and their statements may be admitted as evidence, depending on the court and the particular facts of the case. However, a Michigan DUI drug lawyer will know how to attack the DRE’s testimony and refute the evidence he or she provides.

Non-Scientific Nature

Several doctors trained in various medical disciplines have testified to the non-scientific nature of the 12-step process by which DREs evaluate impaired driving suspects. For example, Dr. Jeffrey Janofsky, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, stated that when he reviewed the DRE program in 1992, he could not find a single peer-reviewed study of the program in any scientific literature. Further, this doctor said he believed that testimony based on DRE evaluations would be inaccurate and could lead to wrongful convictions.

Another clinical pharmacologist, Dr. Francis Gengo, testified in a Maryland court that there was no evidence to support the notion that DREs could distinguish between impairment due to drug use and a medically-related physical reaction. In other words, an officer trained in drug recognition is not qualified to make a medical diagnosis, and a symptom of a medical problem or sickness could easily be misinterpreted as a symptom of drug use.

Drug Test Results As Evidence of Impaired Driving

Testimony provided by drug recognition experts is usually regarded by prosecutors to be more convincing evidence than chemical drug test results. This is because drug tests generally cannot show when someone took a substance, but only that traces of the substance were found in the person’s system. In other words, it would be extremely difficult for a prosecutor to show that you were driving while impaired based solely on the results of a drug test.

For example, consider someone facing an OWI Marijuana charge. A drug screen that was positive for marijuana would not be considered compelling evidence against the driver in this case, because marijuana metabolites can be detected in the body weeks after the drug was used. It would be nearly impossible for a prosecutor to show that the driver was impaired at the time of the arrest based solely on a drug test.

However, testimony from a DRE who investigated the case, performed the 12-step drug recognition evaluation  and noted that the driver met the criteria for intoxication by cannabis—one of the DRE’s seven recognized drug categories —would carry much more weight with the judge or jury.