Police new tool: DRE's--12 steps to determining drug driver

By Heretic.Ape. · Jun 25, 2007 · ·
  1. Heretic.Ape.

    When North Andover police caught up with an 18-year-old man who had stolen a BMW and broken into 25 cars in 90 minutes in March, they suspected alcohol wasn't the only thing he was on.

    In Haverhill, police suspected the same thing early one morning last month when they spotted a car on the Basiliere Bridge facing north in the southbound lane with an incoherent 28-year-old woman at the wheel.

    So did the Kingston, N.H., police officer who found a driver involved in a bad accident on Main Street last month standing in the street while a female passenger was trapped in her car.

    In all three cases, trained drug recognition experts - DREs, to police - were called in to determine whether the drivers were on drugs. In all three cases, the answer was yes, and the drivers were charged with drugged driving.

    Police have long used field sobriety and breath tests and their own observations to determine whether a driver is drunk. But until now drivers who seemed impaired but passed the breath test often had to be let go, even though police suspected they were high on drugs.

    Police say the new technique closes a loophole that allowed drug-impaired drivers to get away with the crime. But defense lawyers question the science behind drug recognition and the potentially invasive nature of the tests DREs employ.

    Salem, Kingston and Seabrook are among New Hampshire police departments with certified DREs.

    In Massachusetts, Lawrence, North Andover, Haverhill, Rowley, Danvers, Marblehead and Wenham have their own drug detectors, and an Andover officer is completing training.

    Acting Sgt. Chuck Gray, North Andover's drug recognition expert, evaluated the teen in the stolen BMW and concluded he was under the influence of cocaine, Klonopin and Liquid G, a "date-rape drug" that is also used to produce a high when taken in combination with other drugs. The teen was sent to jail.

    Haverhill Officer Kevin Lynch, a DRE, determined the woman on the Basiliere Bridge was under the influence of stimulants, depressants and narcotic analgesics. She is awaiting trial.

    So is the driver in the Kingston accident, who Officer Michael LePage, also a DRE, concluded was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

    Working from a 12-point checklist, drug recognition experts perform eye tests, check pulse and blood pressure rates and look for other physical signs that an impaired driver may be under the influence of drugs in any of seven categories - depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, phencyclidines like PCP or angel dust, narcotic analgesics, inhalants and cannabis..

    They travel with a blood pressure cuff, thermometer, stethoscope, latex gloves and a specimen kit for collecting urine samples. They can be called upon to perform evaluations of people at car accident scenes or in the more controlled environment of a police station.

    Gray said he has even gone to two homes after he was called by parents concerned that their children were on some kind of drug. His evaluation enabled the parents to seek help for their children.

    North Andover police Chief Richard Stanley said the new technique is especially welcome at a time when police are seeing more drug-impaired drivers, especially among young people.

    "The use of marijuana by young people is rampant and if they are driving a vehicle this is a tremendous tool to help stop them," he said.

    "Over the last 30 years I have seen many cases where an individual was under the influence of narcotics and we had to let them go because there was no testing mechanism, or take out charges which we constantly lost in court."

    Kingston police Chief Donald Briggs agreed.

    "The DRE provides to arresting officers a lot of help in building and supporting their cases," he said.

    Marblehead police Sgt. Donald Decker, a drug recognition instructor and Massachusetts statewide coordinator for the DRE program, said cities and towns with their own DREs make more drugged-driving arrests.

    In 2005, the most recent year for which Decker has statistics, 684 people statewide were charged with driving under the influence of drugs.

    "There were clearly more in 2006, and DREs are getting more requests from district attorneys to testify in such cases," Decker said. "There are more convictions and more people pleading now."

    The penalties for drugged driving are the same as for drunken driving, Decker said.

    Test Voluntary

    In New Hampshire, DRE tests fall under the state's implied consent law for drivers.

    Kingston's LePage said drivers may be required to submit to blood, urine and other physical tests or lose their license for 180 days.

    In Massachusetts, the implied-consent law requires suspected drunken drivers to submit to breath tests or automatically lose their license. But drug recognition tests are not covered by the law

    While no one can be forced to cooperate with the drug evaluation, most do for one of two reasons, Gray said.

    "They know they need help and feel they are going to get it if they cooperate or they think they are going to beat the system," Gray said.

    Marblehead's Decker is working to change the law so even the reluctant will be required to submit to drug testing.

    He has met with Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, who said he favors legislation that would bring blood, urine and other physical tests under the implied consent law.

    "I am convinced we need to modernize the law and close the gaps between the way we treat alcohol-impaired drivers and drug-impaired drivers," Tarr said. "We are in the formative stages of producing a comprehensive legislative package to bring ( the law ) into the modern era."

    Steve O'Connell, spokesman for Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said the legislation could help prosecute drugged drivers using evidence gathered by DREs.

    "There are legal challenges in Massachusetts in getting this evidence admitted," he said. "Should any legislation be introduced we would certainly be interested in reviewing it."

    But Randy Chapman, a former prosecutor who now defends accused drunken drivers, said there are problems with the DRE program.

    "Drug-impaired drivers are one of the more difficult to prosecute because most officers are incapable of identifying what substance the individual is impaired by," said Chapman, of Everett.

    He said he also has strong reservations about police officers collecting biological samples.

    "The breath test is simple. Officers can do that. Blood and urine samples are more intrusive and the collection aspect is fraught with problems," he said.

    "There has to be a major legislative change and a re-interpretation of the Massachusetts constitution before the DRE program can be embedded in our courts," Chapman said.

    Michael Coyne, a law professor at Massachusetts School of Law in Andover and a practicing defense lawyer, also has concerns about the DRE program.

    "The courts have to carefully scrutinize whether it is science," Coyne said. "If it is science, it should act, walk and talk science. . We ought to take it slow and make sure the science is valid."

    New to New England

    Drug recognition techniques have been used by police on the West Coast since the mid-1970s but only as recently as the mid-1990s in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

    "Everything takes awhile, especially in New England," said William Quigley, New Hampshire statewide coordinator for the DRE program and deputy police chief in Weare.

    Marblehead's Decker said he and former Brewster police Officer Gary Coffey, now with the FBI, were the first in Massachusetts to be certified as DRE's.

    The course involves 80 hours of classroom training and 12 field evaluations. The officers must get 75 percent of the evaluations correct to be certified.

    "It was tougher than any college class I ever took," Lynch said.

    There are now 47 DRE's certified in Massachusetts, six with state police.

    In New Hampshire, there are 77 active DREs, said Quigley. Twenty-two are state troopers, and 55 are scattered among the state Department of Corrections and local police departments.

    "I think it is phenomenal, but it is in its infancy here," said Haverhill's Lynch. "In other parts of the country, L.A. and Phoenix for example, the program is used every day."



    1. Breath or blood alcohol test. If test result is inconsistent with subject's level of impairment, a drug recognition expert is called.

    2. DRE discusses circumstances of arrest with arresting officer.

    3. Preliminary Subject is examined and pulse is taken.

    4. Three eye movement tests are performed to check ability to track moving objects.

    5. Subject is asked to perform several tests requiring balance, coordinated body movements and the ability to follow instructions.

    6. Vital signs are taken, including blood pressure, temperature and pulse.

    7. In a darkened room, the DRE uses a gauge to examine the pupils of the subject's eyes. This examination also includes a viewing of the nasal and oral cavities.

    8. DRE checks muscle tone by moving subject's arms.

    9. DRE checks for possible injection sites and takes another pulse.

    10. DRE questions subject, asking about the use of specific drugs.

    11. DRE forms an opinion on type of drugs the subject may be using and puts the opinion in writing.

    12. DRE obtains a urine specimen and may arrange for a blood sample to corroborate the opinion.

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  1. UberDouche
    Get a physician to do that, or at least a physician's assistant. Not the police though. I really can not support this sort of invasion of personal space on a police officer's suspicion.

    Sounds more like, 'we know your high on something, we just can't prove it right now. But, we can take some biological measurements, not by a doctor, though, because we really know what we are looking for here better than a doctor might'.

    The line just keeps getting more blurred with the passing years. 20 year is about all it takes, in my opinion, for a generation to come up into the world with no knowledge of a former time when such things were not permitted.

    With no ability to see the little bit of change that occurs. We forget that in the early 20th century individual states set their own narcotic laws unencumbered by the federal government.
    In those times it was customary practice for a physician to prescribe for an addict that addict's drug of choice. This was in keeping with the Hypocratic oath to 'do no harm'.

    How very far we have come.
  2. radiometer
    I'm sure being taken into police custody would have no effect on heart rate or blood pressure... :rolleyes:
  3. stoneinfocus
    For sure not xD

    And I´d rather have this done by a PO, as a medic isn´t generally allowed to work for the police or any state institution, but for the patient´s health, according to the Genuever Convention after WW2. Intresting, how many are forgetting this for nice job as a medical officer´s job..:mad:

    To the situation, in case of "strange" accidents, I wouldn´t complain, but I know how this would look like in reality:

    "Your driving is flawless you´reand are quite alert at 4 a.m., coming from Techno Disco/Rave XXX. Please come with us, next, lose your drivers licencse to us and your job, thank you.":mad: In near future: "Oh, BTW, we have a new law, that allows us, accordingly you having consumed "narcotics" to search your home."
  4. fnord
    yeah WTF!! BP/pulse can change normally thru out the day,and they dont even have a baseline to go with!one sober persons BP/p can be totaly different from another's.
  5. Felonious Skunk
    This makes about as much sense as a doctor diagnosing "cancer" or "Parkinson's disease" by measuring blood pressure, pupillary diameter, and inspecting muscle tone.

    There are many causes of altered vital signs and levels of consciousness--not the least of them crawling from underneath a wrecked automobile only to be confronted by a smarmy thinks-he-knows-it-all "drug recognition expert."

    Allergies, hypo/hyperglycemia, emotional states (which never occur after car crashes), dehydration, and side effects from prescription drugs are all plausible factors that could lead to a "positive" determination by one of these premed school dropouts.

    Only chemical testing carries any validity when making final toxicological determinations.
  6. Heretic.Ape.
    ^^^I think this is mainly a way to get around the whole probable cause type thing in order to carry out chemical testing than anything. Invent a witch doctor who can tell someone's on drugs and you have a legit reason for further testing created out of thin air.
  7. toe

    Anyone else troubled by this? The evaluation of someone who struggled to get it right 75% of the time in training- a time when most are hypervigilant about accuracy- could be the basis for prosecution.
  8. Heretic.Ape.
    75%...wouldn't that be a C student? So we're giving credence to the work usually done by physicians (you need to be a lot better than C student) and leaving the ability to ruin lives in the hands of C students.
  9. toe
    Yes, and that's a C (3 across the pond) by U.S. standards..
  10. Felonious Skunk
    Hopefully the defense lawyers will be punching holes in this crap if and when it ever gets off the ground.

    But yeah, like sniffer dogs this is another attempt to sneak around the Constitution.
  11. UberDouche
    Actually, in the USA suspected DUI (drugs or alcohol) are routinely taken to hospital emergency rooms to have blood drawn for toxicological analysis. This doesn't always happen, but it can, and does when, say, the local police station is full on a Friday night.

    SWIM had this happen one Friday night many years ago, and it is SWIM's understanding that it still happens.

    So, physicians are already complicit in this to some extent. Dual-role professionals already exist within law enforcement. Forensic chemists working for various LE agencies, police officers piloting aircraft in the execution of their duties, etc...

    It doesn't seem much of a stretch to foresee a day in the not-to-distant future when this will be expanded to include a police officer/physician's assistant 'on-call' in the same manner that drug-detecting dogs are 'on-call' for when the need arises.

    Testimony from such a LEO would certainly have a far greater level of credibility than would same testimony from a LEO that had x hours of class-room training but lacked any actual medical training.
  12. Rio Fantastic
    I agree 100% with this, this is just an excuse for the police to bust people on drug charges. Was it really nessecary for an expert to be called in to determine wether someone was on drugs when they were parked the wrong way in a lane and babbling incoherently?
  13. RunRedFox
    Well from a very quick assesment its usually not to difficult to identify what kind of drug someones on. The eyes accurately tell alot about what kind of substance an individual is on, however the law should not be able to govern anything concerning your own body. But as for diagnosing which drug someones on this is not incredibly difficult.
  14. keats
    I really, really don't see these kind of tests holding up in court. The only real evidence that would probably be able to secure a successful prosecution is blood or urine samples. Even then people get out of drunk driving charges when they were...driving drunk...all the time, something as subjective as the tests they're describing would not be enough to actually put someone away. The laws would also have to be altered to accomodate this, as the article mentioned most state's implied consent laws don't cover the tests they're describing, and if you're smart enough to know you don't have to take these tests it's as simple as saying no most of the time.
  15. Heretic.Ape.
    ^ I'd like to agree but it never ceases to amaze me how all sense, reason, and defense of rights goes out the window as soon as the magic word "drugs" is spoken.
  16. wednesday
    does anyone else find the fact that they are DRE's funny?

    i actually sort of agree with some of it though..
    i really dont believe in driving while i have taken anything
    some people are fine to do it probably most arent and i wont ever let myself do it
    but i would not be confortable being stuck with a needle by the police
  17. methMADMAN
    I was busted for a meth related DUI by a DRE.
  18. Nagognog2
    I'd love to cross-exam a so-called DRE "scientist" on the stand. There wouldn't be too much left.
  19. jux
    75% was a low "D" in my school district....(74% was an "F")

    anyways according to the article, its doesn't fall under implied-consent (for now).... so the simple solution is to not to consent to testing by the DRE.
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