The Problem with Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Opinions

  • DWI

DWI (driving while intoxicated) in New Jersey includes all intoxicating drugs – not just alcohol. If you are charged with DWI after an evaluation by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), contact New Jersey DWI attorney Steven W. Hernandez and the Hernandez Law Firm immediately.

When a law enforcement officer in New Jersey suspects that a driver is too intoxicated to operate a vehicle safely, but there is no sign that the driver has been drinking, that driver may be interviewed and examined by a DRE, who conducts a standardized, 12-step evaluation process.

The evaluation is supposed to determine if the suspect was driving while intoxicated by drugs, and if so, which drugs. The evaluation process itself is the main problem with Drug Recognition Expert opinions, which are presumably “scientific” but are in fact strictly one person’s opinion.

What Is the Ultimate Purpose of a DRE Evaluation?

A DRE will probably tell you that the purpose of a DRE evaluation is to determine if a DWI suspect is too impaired to drive safely. However, a Drug Recognition Expert is not a doctor. DREs are not scientists, and they are not trained to make medical evaluations or diagnoses.

Almost all Drug Recognition Experts – with the exception of a few attorneys like Toms River DWI attorney Steven W. Hernandez – are police officers. Their job – and the real underlying purpose of a DRE evaluation – is to gather evidence and build a case against a suspect.

Like almost all of us, law enforcement officers may be subject to what forensic psychologists call “confirmation bias” – the normal human tendency to seek or interpret evidence in a way that confirms one’s preconceived biases.

DRE Evaluations Are Subjective, Not Scientific

The DRE evaluation process requires the DRE to form an opinion about a suspect’s level of drug intoxication and ability to drive safely. That opinion is personal. For instance, do red watery eyes and sniffles indicate that a driver is high on cocaine – or simply suffering from allergies?

Despite what we know about confirmation bias – and what we also know about the other problems with the DRE evaluation process – based on a Drug Recognition Expert’s opinion, a New Jersey driver may be taken into police custody and charged with drug-related DWI.

Since the 1970s, when the first DRE programs were established, a number of studies have found that DREs form inaccurate opinions and conclusions at an alarmingly high rate. A driver who is diagnosed by a DRE as intoxicated may in fact have no drugs in his or her system at all.

If You Are Facing a Drug-Related DWI Charge

New Jersey DWI attorney Steven W. Hernandez – himself a DRE as well as a Board-Certified DUI Attorney certified by the National College for DUI Defense – will not allow the judge, prosecutor, or in a jury trial, the jurors, to assume that a DRE’s opinion is a scientific opinion.

He will challenge a Drug Recognition Expert’s testimony, and he will make it clear to all parties that the DRE’s opinion is personal and not scientific. Attorney Steven W. Hernandez is familiar with the mistakes that DREs routinely make and the preconceived biases they may harbor.

DRE programs are an example of police agencies – who are responsible to keep the streets safe and enforce DWI laws – putting too much confidence and faith in a scientifically questionable process. Especially for innocent drivers facing DWI charges, the results may be devastating.

About Steven W. Hernandez and the Hernandez Law Firm

Toms River DWI attorney Steven W. Hernandez is a criminal defense attorney, a Drug Recognition Expert, and a sought-after teacher, trainer, and public speaker.

Steven W. Hernandez has successfully completed Drug Recognition Expert overview training with over 120 hours of forensic science related to urine and blood analysis, he is a certified operator of the Alcotest 7110 breathalyzer device, and he is a field sobriety test instructor.

Coming to the conclusion that a motorist is impaired is easy. Proving that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law is far more difficult. Attorney Steven W. Hernandez will aggressively challenge a DRE’s testimony and will cast doubt on his or her conclusions.

What Else Should You Know About Drug-Related DWI

Some people assume that if the drug you are using was legally prescribed by a doctor, you cannot be charged with DWI, but that is not the case. You can face DWI charges if you drive under the influence of any drug at all if that drug has impaired you and you cannot drive safely.

If you are charged with DWI in Toms River or anywhere in New Jersey, contact the Hernandez Law Firm for the defense representation you will need. If the charge is drug-related, you may need your own DRE, attorney Steven Hernandez, to counter and challenge a DRE’s testimony.

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Steven W. Hernandez, Board-Certified DUI Attorney