What is a Drug Recognition Expert in New Jersey?

Concept about driving under influence of medicines

Police departments in New Jersey have employed specially trained law enforcement officers known as “Drug Recognition Experts,” or “DREs” for short, for a number of years. If you have been charged with a Drug DUI, you may have run into a DRE in the course of your arrest. The role of a Drug Recognition Expert is very important, as they may be used to support the DUI case against you. Fortunately, a skilled New Jersey DUI defense lawyer may be able to challenge the drug recognition evaluation report in your case to successfully get your charges dismissed. Call (201) 793-8018 to speak with one of our attorneys now and receive a free consultation about your DUI case.

What Does a Drug Recognition Expert “DRE” Do?

A DRE is a drug recognition expert. These law enforcement officers have received additional training to identify the presence of drugs in a person’s system. A DRE administers tests to determine if you are under the influence of drugs and can offer a corresponding opinion in court to support a driving under the influence charge (DUI) in violation of NJSA 39:4-50, or even a straight drug charge conviction if you’re accused of being under the influence of drugs in public.

What’s the Reason for Drug Recognition Experts / DREs?

As mentioned, Drug Recognition Experts are highly trained officers who can spot whether you are on drugs and driving while impaired by drugs. DRE officer training got its start in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department identified that drug-impaired drivers posed many of the same (and sometimes greater) risks to the public than alcohol-impaired drivers. A study conducted in California around this time established that over half of all male drivers who died in crashes had tested positive for one or more drugs other than alcohol at around the time of their fatal crashes. A University of Tennessee Study similarly noted that 40% of all drivers treated at a trauma center had drugs, beyond just alcohol, in their system.

The LAPD worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) to develop a battery of standardized tests that a trained DRE can administer in the field or at a police station to determine if someone is under the influence of drugs. Select New Jersey law enforcement personnel now receive this training, offered by the state through a program accredited by NHTSA and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

How Can Dre Officers Tell if You Are on Drugs?

DRE instructors worked with medical personnel, scientists, and NHTSA to identify a number of objective symptoms that are associated with various categories of drugs. For example, someone on a central nervous system depressant like valium, Xanax, or even alcohol tends to show the same symptoms. These symptoms classically include certain jerking of the eyes, inability to cross your eyes, slow speech, slow pulse, depressed blood pressure, flaccid muscle tone, and a number of other symptoms. DREs can link up these and other symptoms with the presence of a hallucinogen, a stimulant, a narcotic, a dissociative like LSD, an inhalant like nitrous, or marijuana in your system. After the DRE documents these symptoms, they can offer court testimony about what they observed and offer an expert opinion on whether you were under the influence of a drug.

More specifically, DREs follow twelve standardized steps in evaluating whether you are on drugs. They administer a breath test, typically to rule out that you are under the influence of alcohol, or to determine if you are on a combination of drugs and alcohol. The DRE then interviews any arresting officer and asks you a number of standardized questions to determine if you are sick, injured, or if your symptoms might be attributable to a cause other than drugs or alcohol. For example, they want to rule out a bad knee, poor balance, diabetes, getting hit in the head with an airbag, etc. These are sometimes called Berkemer questions after the name of the US Supreme Court case that generally authorizes the police to ask them.

DREs then conduct standardized field sobriety tests, which you have probably seen on TV, including walking a line, standing on one leg, touching your fingers to your nose, etc. They then match up how you perform on those tests with classic drug impairment symptoms. DREs then check your vital signs, conduct an examination of your eyes in a dark room, examine you muscle tone, check for injection sites on your body, requests to interview you after Mirandizing you, all before forming a formal opinion regarding whether you are on drugs and, if so, what type or category or drug. Finally, the DRE will request that you provide a chemical test sample (typically blood or urine), which a crime lab scientist or technician will test for the presence of drugs and/or alcohol.

How a Drug Recognition Evaluation Is Used to Prove DUI

You will often have been arrested prior to a DRE exam being administered. If police ultimately charge you with a DUI, the prosecutor will typically call the DRE to the stand during your trial to convince the judge that you were drugs at the time of your arrest or at the time you drove a vehicle. Remember, you have the right to have an attorney representing you throughout your court case for driving under the influence.

Do I Need a Top NJ DUI Defense Lawyer for My Case?

An experienced DUI defense attorney can challenge a DRE’s opinion during pretrial motion practice or on cross examination, which is why it is critical to hire the best one you can find. To learn more about fighting a DUI charge that you are facing and discuss potential defenses that may be used in your case, contact our firm to speak with an experienced New Jersey DUI Defense Lawyer now. You can call our local office in Jersey City at (201) 793-8018 or reach out online for a free consultation.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.