What Is a Drug Recognition Expert?

What Is a Drug Recognition Expert?Many people may not realize that even if you have not had anything to drink or done any illegal drugs, you can still be charged with a DUI in Franklin. But how does that make sense? All it takes to be charged with driving under the influence in Tennessee is being impaired enough where it affects the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. This means that any intoxicant, controlled substance, or substance affecting the central nervous system could land you a hefty fine or in jail. And yes, even for medications that were legally and rightfully prescribed to you.

If you get pulled over, a uniformed officer could very well be a drug recognition expert, or call to bring one to the scene. If they suspect that you are potentially under the influence of any type of drug, they will conduct an evaluation to determine if you are actually impaired or not.

Drug recognition exams utilize 12 steps

A drug recognition expert is a police officer who is specifically trained on how to detect if a person is under the influence of drugs. They go through a specialized training program where they are taught how to conduct many tests in order to form an accurate opinion on whether or not a driver is impaired and can safely drive a car without being a danger to themselves or others. This training program is called the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program and is managed by both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In order to detect if a driver is under the influence or not, their protocol consists of performing a series of 12 steps:

  1. Breath alcohol test done by the officer to detect the current amount of alcohol in your system. Since alcohol gets absorbed by your blood, it gets carried through your brain and lungs, so this test is conducted by the driver breathing into a device which measures their blood-alcohol level.
  2. Interview with the officer to discuss the conditions of the arrest. A drug recognition expert will question why the officer pulled the driver over, how the driver was acting, and what their appearance was like. The driver’s blood-alcohol levels will be reviewed at this time as well.
  3. Initial exam with the driver to observe their attitude, coordination, speech, and breath. The drug recognition expert will ask the driver if they have used any drugs or alcohol and take their pulse. If it is suspected that the driver is experiencing a medical issue, the officer will call for an ambulance. If it is suspected that they are under the influence of drugs, they will continue with the exam.
  4. Eye examination where the drug recognition expert will check the driver’s pupils for dilation and if their eyes only can follow a moving object. They will be on the lookout for horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) and vertical gaze nystagmus (VGN) where the eyes tick side to side or up and down while following the object rather than moving smoothly.
  5. Psychophysical tests where the four standard tests will be administered: the modified Romberg balance, walk and turn, one leg stand, and finger-to-nose test. These will also test the driver’s mental and physical impairment.
  6. Vitals and pulse where the drug recognition expert will take the driver’s pulse for the second time as well as their blood pressure and temperature.
  7. Dark room exam to test the driver’s pupil sizes under three different types of lighting. This will show if their pupils are dilated, constricted, or normal.
  8. Muscle tone exam where the driver’s skeletal muscle tone is observed since some drugs have effects that cause muscles to become more stiff or soft.
  9. Injection site check where the drug recognition expert will look for areas on the driver’s body where drugs were potentially recently injected. They will also check their pulse for a third time.
  10. Driver’s statement is given at this time after the drug recognition expert has read their Miranda rights if drug use is suspected as a result of the prior steps. They will also ask additional questions about the driver’s drug use.
  11. Analysis is given on whether or not the drug recognition expert officially believes the driver is impaired as a result of drug use.
  12. Toxicological exam is conducted to give admissible evidence to court that supports the drug recognition expert’s analysis. However, this only tests for alcohol, marijuana, and then any additional drugs the officer requests.

Remember that evaluations are voluntary in Franklin

If you get pulled over in Tennessee and are asked to complete a series of tests and answer questions regarding suspected drug use, you have the right to refuse. Evaluations conducted by a drug recognition expert are completely voluntary and will not result in any legal consequences if you deny the exam.

Drug recognition experts are not medical professionals

While these experts do go through specialized training in order to form an unbiased opinion on a driver’s sobriety, they are not doctors and do not have any specific medical training. The 12-step system they use is detailed, but it is not foolproof. Even if a toxicological exam is conducted, the police officer may not have achieved the results they were hoping for. This means that a Franklin driver who was arrested and is facing a DUI may have options. With the help of an experienced lawyer, you could have a good defense against a DUI charge if a drug recognition expert was used in your arrest.

If you were pulled over for suspected DUI, asked to perform a sobriety test, and were found to be under the influence by a drug recognition expert, the Franklin attorneys at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates may be able to help. Call our office at 615-977-9370, or submit our contact form to schedule an appointment in Franklin, Columbia, or Brentwood today.