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Drug Recognition Expert

Drug impaired driving is on the rise. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration released a 2014 report stating there has been a 20 percent increase of nighttime drivers testing positive for drugs since 2007. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has decided to combat this influx of drugged driving with Drug Recognition Experts (DRE).

DRE rely on a 12-step process which evaluates a driver’s impairment level. Police officers can apply to become a Drug Recognition Expert with their local state Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DCEP) Coordinator. With some relatively simple training, a police officer can gain the title of “expert” and give testimony in court.

Testimony from a DRE could affect your DWI case. A judge is much more likely to take a DRE seriously than an officer without special certification. It’s important you take steps to counteract this with strong legal representation.

Attorney for DRE Police in Harris County, Texas

DRE officers might be more prone to identifying drugged drivers, but they only receive a moderate amount of training beyond basic DWI protocol. A sturdy defense can fight DRE testimony with scientific and objective evidence.

If you or someone you know has been charged with DWI from a DRE, it’s imperative you contact a knowledgeable attorney from Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc.. DRE testimony can be challenging to contest, so you want a lawyer who has experience with DRE. We can dissect their argument to cast doubt onto the prosecution’s case.

CallFlood Lewis & Associates, Inc. now at (713) 224-5529 to schedule a case consultation. Our attorneys represent people throughout the Harris County area including Houston, Bellaire, Pasadena and West University Place.

Overview of Drug Recognition Experts in Texas


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What is a Drug Recognition Expert?

In the 1970s the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) noticed a surge of drug-impaired driving. Police officers found it difficult to detect drugged drivers because they tended to give low blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) readings. To lower driving under the influence of drugs the IACP created the Drug Influence Evaluation (DIE) procedure.

DIE was utilized to identify drivers who have been using drugs. Eventually the procedure was morphed into a curriculum designed for drug detection known today as DRE certification. Officers who have completed the training will be given the title of Drug Recognition Expert.

DRE officers often testify in court because they’re considered “experts.” However, many Texas courtrooms have found DRE evidence to be inadmissible. This is because DRE evidence relies heavily on subjective reasoning and field sobriety tests. In reality, the only way to truly identify drug use is to test a person’s bio-sample.


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The DRE 12-Step Process

Certified DRE utilize a 12-step process to identify drugged drivers called DRE protocol. It’s a checklist of procedures designed to detect signs of drug use. The majority of the 12-step process relies on field sobriety tests and rudimentary science.

Listed below are the 12 steps used by DRE.

  1. Breathalyzer Test
  2. Questioning the suspected DWI driver
  3. Preliminary examination composed of eye-tracking exercises and questions
  4. Evaluating the driver’s eyes through tests such as the Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN), the Lack of Convergence (LOC), or the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
  5. Assess the driver’s physical and mental state through field sobriety tests;
  6. Examination of vital signs such as blood pressure or pulse;
  7. Checking pupil size with a pupilometer and penlight;
  8. Examining the driver’s muscle tone;
  9. Overlooking the driver’s arms for any injection sites;
  10. Documenting the results of the process;
  11. Question the driver about any suspicious evidence found in the process; and
  12. Ask for a urine or blood sample for testing

The DRE protocol might sound impressive, but it’s important you look at the bigger picture. There are a variety of drugs with differing side effects. Not only this, but each person reacts to a drug differently. Some people may be able to perform field sobriety tests perfectly while high.

Additionally, most of the 12-step procedure is subjective. For example, increasing pupil size is a sign of drug use. However, it could also be a sign of extreme stress or sexual attraction. Just proving that the driver’s pupil is larger than normal isn’t strong enough evidence to prove they’re intoxicated. The only way to truly detect drug use is through chemical testing.


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Why DRE Certification Isn’t Enough

Officers require a moderate amount of training to become a DRE. They must meet the basic requirements first to apply with their DCEP Coordinator, which include:

  • Be commissioned as a Police Officer in Texas;
  • Completion of the 24-hour Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) course;
  • Finished a minimum of two years of service (excluding any Reserve time); and
  • Have a background and experience in making DWI arrests

If the officer has completed the requirements listed above, then they can apply for DRE. The program has three phases totaling up to 152 hours. Officers must take a final exam and also be approved by two DRE instructors before gaining their certification.

Listed below are the phases for becoming DRE.

  • Phase One – DRE hopefuls must complete a 16-hour DRE Pre-school. The course introduces the 12-step process, seven drug categories, eye examination procedures and how to effectively conduct a field sobriety test.
  • Phase Two – Next is a 56-hour DRE school requirement. The school will expand on drug evaluation procedures, drug categories, examining vital signs, drug combinations, preparing for testimony and a written examination.
  • Phase Three – Officers will be required to complete a minimum of 12 drug evaluations under the supervision of a DRE instructor. The process takes approximately 80 hours to complete. Once they’ve finished the DRE hopeful will have to take a final exam.

DRE training is much more detailed than standard DWI training, but it isn’t at all reliable for identifying drugged drivers. Physicians and lab technicians undergo years of medical instruction to accurately read blood and urinalysis results accurately. In addition, many DRE lessons surround subjective observations. Since drug use and their effects can be complicated the DRE method cannot accurately discern one drug from another.


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Additional Resources

Drug Recognition Expert – Visit the official website of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to learn more about DRE procedures and training. Access the site to learn more about the 12-step process, DRE conferences for 2019 and where to apply for DRE certification.

Marijuana Use and Driving – Visit a document provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more about cannabis use and driving. Access the document to learn marijuana driving statistics, how it can affect your ability to operate a vehicle and more.


DWI Lawyer for Drug Recognition Experts in Houston, Texas

If you have been subject to DRE evaluation in Texas, it’s imperative you contact a proficient defense attorney. DRE testimony is technically from an expert, so it can be hard to contest. You need an attorney with experience in DWI law and DRE evaluations.

Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. has been practicing DWI defense for years in Texas. Our attorneys have challenged many DRE experts through cross-examinations. Call us at (713) 224-5529 to schedule a case consultation surrounding your DWI.

Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. accepts clients throughout the greater Houston area including River Oaks, Uptown and Greenspoint.



This article was last updated on March 8th, 2019.

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