What Is a Drug Recognition Expert?

  • DWI

In New Jersey, if you are charged with DWI (driving while intoxicated) because a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) has determined that you were driving while impaired by drugs, you must have the advice and services of Toms River DWI attorney Steven W. Hernandez.

What happens if you are stopped for suspicion of DWI, but the police officer finds no evidence that you’ve been drinking? Because there is no breathalyzer-like test for drugged drivers, a driver who is suspected of drugged driving may be examined by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).

What is a Drug Recognition Expert? What happens if you are stopped for suspicion of DWI and examined by a DRE? Why is the testimony of a DRE important if you are prosecuted for driving while intoxicated in New Jersey? If you’ll keep reading, these questions will be answered below.

Who Are DREs?

Drug Recognition Experts are typically law enforcement officers who have received special training in identifying drivers who are impaired by drugs. A DRE may be called to the scene when a police officer suspects that a motorist is impaired by something other than alcohol.

Throughout the U.S., DRE training is a combined effort of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A certified DRE has received 72 hours of training in the classroom and 40 to 60 hours of training in the field.

Most large police agencies – and many smaller ones – participate in the program. In addition to police officers, the program provides DRE training to prosecutors and defense attorneys. Toms River DWI lawyer Steven W. Hernandez, for example, is a trained Drug Recognition Expert.

What Does DRE Training Entail?

A candidate to become a Drug Recognition Expert has to successfully complete a course in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) before entering the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) training program, which consists of these three phases:

  1. Phase One is a 16-hour pre-school that includes an introduction to DRE evaluation processes, a study of the seven main drug categories, and attaining proficiency in the administration of standard field sobriety tests.
  2. Phase Two is 56 hours of schooling which covers drug evaluation procedures and in-depth education regarding each category of drugs and each type of drug combination. The 56 hours includes training for case preparation and courtroom testimony. After the 56 hours, a written exam must be passed before moving ahead to the final training phase.
  3. In Phase Three, a candidate completes at least a dozen drug evaluations with a DRE instructor’s supervision. The candidate must accurately identify individuals under the influence of three different categories of drugs, and the candidate must successfully complete a final test and receive approval from two DRE instructors to become a DRE.

Each state has its own DRE training application form that police agencies may obtain through their state’s Drug Evaluation and Classification Coordinator.

What Does a DRE Do?

A Drug Recognition Expert examines and diagnoses drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. A DRE forms his or her expert opinion regarding the answers to these questions:

  1. Is the driver impaired?
  2. If so, is the impairment due to an illness, injury, or some other medical condition, or is it drug-related?
  3. If the Drug Recognition Expert determines that the impairment is drug related, which category or combination of drugs is the most probable reason for the impairment?

How Are DRE Evaluations Conducted?

DREs conduct these evaluations at intake centers, police precincts, and other locations where impaired drivers are taken after they are arrested. The evaluation is not typically conducted at the location of the traffic stop and is usually conducted after an arrest has been made.

In some cases, the suspect may be a driver the DRE has arrested. In most cases, however, a DRE is called to evaluate a driver taken into custody by another officer. A DRE may be asked to assist an investigation because of his or her skills and training in identifying impaired motorists.

A DRE assesses and evaluates a suspect’s behavior and appearance. A DRE also measures and records a suspect’s vital signs and observes the suspect’s responses and reactions. A DRE will administer tests to evaluate a suspect’s judgment, coordination, and other characteristics.

What Else Should You Know About DREs?

The Drug Evaluation and Classification Program originated in Los Angeles in the 1970s. It has expanded to all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as Canada. As of 2021, more than 400 certified DREs were working in the State of New Jersey.

If you’re charged with DWI in New Jersey on the basis of a DRE’s evaluation and testimony, you need to counter that testimony with a defense attorney who is also a DRE. Contact Toms River DWI attorney and DRE Steven W. Hernandez as soon as possible after a DWI arrest.

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Steven W. Hernandez, Board-Certified DUI Attorney