Drug Recognition Examination (DRE)

Legal Guidance for Individuals Facing DWI Charges in East Brunswick

In New Jersey, a driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction may result in serious consequences, including jail time and a license suspension. Because of the potential penalties, it is imperative to challenge any failure by the arresting officer to follow proper protocol. You may need an experienced lawyer who knows the nuances of the laws of DWI and other traffic violations. Attorney Leon Matchin provides tenacious representations for East Brunswick residents and other individuals facing these charges.

Understanding the Drug Recognition Evaluation Process

A drug recognition evaluation (DRE) is an evaluation performed by a law enforcement officer who has had the requisite training to be considered a Drug Recognition Expert (also termed DRE). A DRE officer has specialized training and knowledge regarding various drugs and their effects on the body. The DRE officer is usually called in to administer a drug recognition evaluation after the officer making initial contact with the driver suspects impairment but believes drugs may be involved instead of, or in addition, to alcohol. The drug recognition evaluation is a 12-step process that allows the DRE officer to observe and evaluate a number of factors to determine whether a driver is likely under the influence of drugs.

First, the initial officer requests a breathalyzer test from the driver. This is an informal reading of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If the breathalyzer result is inconsistent with impairment, but the officer still suspects that the driver is impaired, the officer may request a DRE officer to further evaluate the driver.

The second step of the DRE consists of the initial officer briefing the DRE officer regarding the suspected DUI driver. The DRE officer will ask questions regarding the driver’s appearance, demeanor, and manner of driving. As a third step, the DRE officer will examine the driver, inquiring about the driver’s health and any substances, including food, drink or medications, that the driver recently consumed. The DRE officer will observe the driver’s speech, attitude, coordination, and breath. The DRE officer will check for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), an involuntary jerking of the eyes that indicates impairment. The DRE officer will also measure the driver’s pulse for the first of three different times to ensure an accurate reading.

Fourth, in addition to HGN, the DRE officer will examine the driver for Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN) and a lack of convergence. When testing for lack of convergence, the officer is checking to see if a driver’s eyes will cross properly. The officer moves the stimulus, usually a pen or similar object, closer to the driver’s nose so that the eyes should naturally cross. If the eyes do not cross properly, this could be an additional indicator of impairment.

As the fifth step, the DRE officer will have the driver perform psychophysical tests, such as walking in a straight line or balancing on one leg. These tests are divided attention tests used to gauge a driver’s coordination. Next, the DRE officer will take the driver’s blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Various drugs have different effects on a driver’s vital signs, so the DRE officer is checking for readings outside an average range.

As the seventh step, the DRE officer will check the driver’s pupil size under three different lighting conditions. Different drugs will make the pupils react differently to light than they normally would, so the officer is looking for any abnormal pupil activity.

The DRE officer will also check for loose or stiff muscles, since variations in muscle tone can be caused by drug use. The officer will also check for injection sites on a driver’s body that would indicate drug use. The DRE officer should then take the driver’s pulse for a third and final time. For steps 10 through 12, the officer should read the Miranda Rights to the driver and ask the driver questions regarding his or her driving. The DRE officer will make an evaluation based on his or her training and experience as to whether the driver is impaired, and then finally the officer may request a saliva, blood, or urine sample from the driver.

Administering this 12-step test can leave room for many errors. The reliability of the test is based on officers administering the test the same way each time. Thus, if a DRE officer administers different portions of the test out of order or improperly, these errors could affect the reliability of the test results and leave the prosecution without key evidence. Also, officers may observe some signs as indications of intoxication, such as heightened blood pressure or lack of coordination. However, there may be alternative explanations for these indicators if it is late at night, or if the driver is simply tired or nervous about the examination.

Enlist an East Brunswick Attorney to Fight the Prosecution

It is important to hold law enforcement accountable for any possible missteps made when you are facing a charge of DWI in East Brunswick or the surrounding area. Leon Matchin is a defense lawyer and skilled advocate representing people charged with DWI and other traffic violations. We also serve people in New Brunswick and other communities throughout Monmouth, Middlesex, and Mercer Counties. Call us today at (732) 662-7658 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.