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Michigan Expands Definition and Use of Drug Recognition Experts

Sep 8th, 2016 DUI Drug Charges

Starting in the fall of 2016, Michigan police will have a new tool to help them fight intoxicated driving.  This new tool comes in the form of a saliva test for drugs, and it will be used in conjunction with a Drug Recognition Expert, or DRE, to help Michigan police arrest for drivers for DUI. Additionally, Michigan has expanded its definition of DRE so as to allow more departments to begin using salvia testing for marijuana.

These tools are important because in Michigan you can be arrested for DUI because you are under the influence of alcohol or under the influence of drugs.  If the DUI involves either drugs or alcohol, the crime is the same, and the punishment is the same.  Michigan’s Governor recently signed a law that creates a pilot program to explore the expanded use of saliva tests for drugs.  These saliva tests will be used by Michigan police in certain DUI traffic stops.

Under this pilot program, Michigan State Police will select five counties for participation.  However, in order to participate, the county must meet certain requirements. For example, the statute corresponding to PA 243, i.e., MCL 257.625t requires that the subject county have at least one certified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) on staff at any level of agency within the county.[i]

In order to become a true DRE, an officer must first be trained under the protocol of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) program. That program involves a three-day course, and after graduating from same, the officer certified as a “participant in the NHTSA SFST program.”

Once an officer has demonstrated a sufficient amount of proficiency at making drunk driving arrests then they will be selected by whatever means a particular law enforcement agency uses, to participate in advanced training—i.e., drug recognition expert training.

According to the International Drug Evaluation and Classification web site, The DRE Program trains police officers and other approved public safety officials as drug recognition experts (DREs) through a three-phase training process:

  • Drug Recognition Expert Pre-School (16 hours).
  • Drug Recognition Expert DRE School (56 hours).
  • Drug Recognition Expert Field Certification (Approximately 40 – 60 hrs).

Upon graduating from this training the officers now carry the moniker of “Drug Recognition Expert” or DRE. “Drug Recognition Experts” (DRE’s) claim to be capable of not only detecting impairment from drugs, but also to ascertain the exact drug category that the suspect is under.  Michigan’s new saliva testing drunk driving law creates a substantially broad definition of a “certified drug recognition expert,” in that the definition allows anyone who has training in detecting the “impairment in a driver under the influence of a controlled substance rather than, or in addition to, alcohol,”[ii]  to call themselves a DRE.

The definition in the drunk driving statute does not even require that the officer be certified under the NHTSA standard; instead, it allows anyone who has ever attended the police academy to meet the overly broad definition of “certified drug recognition expert.”  This does expand the potential pool of counties that may participate in the pilot project.  Fortunately, the impact of the definition does seem to be limited to only those counties selected, as every further section makes reference to being an officer in a participating county.[iii]

As this program expands however, look for more officers to start calling themselves DREs even though they have not met the necessary NHTSA requirements.

[i] MCL 257.625t(4).

[ii] MCL 257.625t(9)(a).

[iii] See MCL 257.625r et. al.