Behind the Scenes: Drug Recognition Expert Opinion
If you’re facing charges for driving while under the influence, you obviously are wary of the consequences. It isn’t as if you were out drinking with your friends and blew above .08% in the breathalyzer machine. Instead, a drug recognition expert (DRE) interviewed you in police headquarters and gave an opinion about your impairment. Your DUI charge has nothing to do with alcohol at all. Rather, it has everything to do with the presence of cannabis in your urine sample.
The fact that you have legal access to medical marijuana means little in this case. After all, it’s not like you’re accused of unlawful possession – or distribution. The fact is that you tested positive for pot. And, the DRE felt you were impaired.
In order to fully understand the process, you might be interested in a conversation we had with Herbert H. Leckie of DWI-DRE Consulting Services, Incorporated. We spoke with Mr. Leckie about procedures used when drivers are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. Our interview was primarily focused on cannabis.
Question: What is your background that qualifies you to be a DRE?
I retired from the New Jersey State Police as a police sergeant after twenty years of service. I acted as a Drug Recognition Expert and also instructed others on the twelve steps involved in determining if a driver was under the influence of drugs while behind the wheel.
Question: When is a Drug Recognition Expert called in?
A road officer encounters a driver who may be acting erratically or otherwise impaired. The policeman does the standard field sobriety tests and breath test. You may also hear the latter referred to as breathalyzer analysis or Alchotest machine testing. Although the blood alcohol level (BAC) is below the legal limit, the results seem inconsistent with the driver’s behavior. Therefore, arrangements are made for a DRE to meet at police headquarters to conduct an evaluation.
Question: Who are Drug Recognition Experts in NJ?
Drug Recognition Experts are all police officers. The New Jersey State Police has a select number of troopers assigned as DREs. Some police departments have also trained Drug Recognition Experts. However, many municipalities turn to a pool to acquire assistance when necessary.
Question: What happens when the DRE meets with the accused?
The DRE protocol calls for a twelve-step process, which is sometimes videotaped and subject to discovery. This includes taking the driver’s blood pressure and pulse. The Drug Recognition Expert will also conduct an eye exam and interview both the accused and the arresting officer.
Meanwhile, the DRE evaluates all results as a whole in order to come up with an expert opinion concerning the drug causing the accused’s impairment. It is not until after the drug is identified that a urine specimen is requested for confirmation.
Question: How is impairment from cannabis identified?
In determining whether a person has used cannabis, the protocol calls for a urine test. Depending on a number of factors, weed can stay in the system for up to thirty days. The urine specimen is designed to determine if THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is present. However, the test is qualitative and not quantitative.
Unlike measuring blood alcohol content, there is no way of knowing the amount of marijuana present in the individual’s urine specimen. Instead, a positive reading and the DRE’s observations and report serve as the basis for DUI charges.
In some states, such as Colorado, blood tests measure the driver’s blood to determine the quantity of marijuana present. New Jersey has not reached this point yet. It is, therefore, possible to be charged with impairment even though you haven’t smoked weed in a couple of days.
Question: What do you do as a DRE?
As a former Drug Recognition Expert Instructor, I understand the value of the twelve step process. When defense counsel requests my opinion, I review the video of the accused and test results. I look to ensure the protocol was followed correctly and that there are no inconsistencies.