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What is a drug recognition expert (DRE)?

And how do they impact my OWI case?

Operating while intoxicated is a crime in Wisconsin.  If you’re accused of OWI, the government alleged you were operating a vehicle while intoxicated.  While most OWI cases involve drunk driving, this blog post focuses on drug recognition experts and drugged driving cases.  How does an officer qualify to become a drug recognition expert?  What steps to DREs use to evaluate drivers? We explain:

Remember, criminal defense law firm Meyer Van Severen, S.C. defends individuals accused of all criminal, drunk driving, and drugged driving cases.  Call us at (414) 270-0202 immediately to begin working on your case.  Certainly, our drunk driving attorneys focus on providing the best drunk driving representation in Wisconsin.


Man takes pills before driving
Certain police officers are trained to spot OWI by drugged driving.

What is a drug recognition expert (DRE)?

A drug recognition expert, or drug recognition evaluator is a law enforcement officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs, or drugs and alcohol.  In order to pursue the qualification, certain minimum qualifications are required by the Wisconsin DRE Oversight Committee and the DRE State Coordinator:

  1. The applicant has been a certified peace officer for at least two years.  The experience can be from Wisconsin, or any other state; and
  2. The applicant works in a patrol capacity; and
  3. Applicants cannot be in an active probationary period of employment; and
  4. The applicant must successfully complete the Drugs That Impair course, and/or the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving course; and
  5. Finally, a local prosecutor must endorse the applicant.

Applicants are not automatically admitted to the drug recognition expert program.  The above-listed requirements must be satisfied.  Then, applicants are evaluated based on the number of impaired drivers he/she has arrested in the previous 12 months, whether the applicant has testified in an OWI-related court proceedings as an arresting officer, and whether the officer has assisted his department in drafting policies regarding drunk/drugged driving.

Drug recognition expert certification is issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.  Altogether, approximately 6,000 police officers were certified as DREs in 2015.


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What is a drug influence evaluation (DIE)?

Eventually, all drug enforcement experts follow a 12 step procedure to determine whether a drive is impaired, and what kind of drugs are likely causing the impairment.  The twelve steps are:

1.  Breath alcohol test:

The arresting officer typically administers a preliminary breath test.  If the result of the PBT appears consistent with the driver’s intoxication, a DRE is normally not needed.

2.  Interview of the arresting officer: 

In most cases, a DRE doesn’t examine subjects he arrested.  The arresting officer may have heard or seen things that indicate the ingestion of certain drugs that occurred before the drug recognition expert’s arrival.  The arresting officer may have also located things like drug paraphernalia, which is a great indication of the drug ingested.

3.  Preliminary examination:

The preliminary examination is the DREs first physical contact with the subject.  A major purpose of this step is to determine whether the subject is suffering from any injuries not necessarily related to drugs.  At this step, officers encounter a fork in the road: continue the drug investigation, pursue medication attention, or proceed with the DWI (alcohol) investigation.  Another purpose is for officers to begin assessing the subject.  Does the subject’s appearance, behavior, and automatic bodily responses suggest drug-induced intoxication?  The subject’s first pulse is also taken at this point.

4.  Eye examinations:

The fourth step requires officers to administer three tests of the subject’s eyes: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Vertical Gaze Nystagmus, and Lack of Convergence.  Certain drugs produce certain observable effects on the eyes.  One of the most dramatic of these effects is called nystagmus, which is the involuntary jerking of the eyes.  Intoxication by alcohol causes horizontal gaze nystagmus, or involuntary jerking of the eyes as they gaze to the side.

5.  Divided attention psychophysical tests:

Divided attention means the subject is focusing on more than one thing or task at a time.  Certain field sobriety tests take advantage of divided attention and attempt to show intoxication.  All drugs that impair driving ability also impair the driver’s ability to perform certain tests.  These tests include the walk and turn test and the one leg stand test.

6.  Vital signs and second pulse:

Many drugs affect the heart, lungs, and other major organs of the body.  The effects on these systems shows up during an examination of the driver’s vital signs. Blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature are all effected by drug use.

7.  Darkroom examinations:

Significantly, many drugs impact how the pupils of the eyes appear and respond to light.  By systematically changing the amount of light entering the subject’s eyes, officers can observe the pupils appearance and reaction under controlled conditions.    Pinpoint pupils can be caused by codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, methadone, and heroin.  Dilated pupils are caused by antidepressants, amphetamines, MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, and mescaline.

8.  Examination of muscle tone:

Unquestionably, certain drugs can cause the driver’s muscles to become tense and rigid.  Other drugs can cause the muscles to feel very flaccid, loose, or rubbery.  Police officers look for clues during attempts to complete field sobriety tests, and while taking the subject’s pulse and blood pressure.

9.  Check for injection sites and third pulse:

Concurrently, certain drugs, like heroin, are commonly injected by users with hypodermic needles.  Several other drugs are also frequently ingested.  Officers are trained to examine the arms for fresh puncture marks.  Uncovering injection sites on the driver provides additional, powerful evidence that the driver may be under the influence of certain kinds of drugs.

10.  Subject’s statements and other observations:

Certainly at this point in the investigation, a drug recognition expert should have reasonable grounds to determine whether the driver is under the influence of drugs.  The DRE should also have a belief as to which drugs are impairing the driver.  It’s at this point that the police officer interviews the subject to confirm his suspicions regarding the intoxication of the driver.  Depending on where the investigation if, how long the driver has been stopped, and other factors, the driver’s Miranda warnings may be given at this point.

11.  Analysis and opinion of the evaluator:

Thereafter, based on all the information, evidence, and observations of the DRE, a few decisions must be made.  Significantly, is the subject under the influence of drugs?  What are the drugs the driver is under the influence of?

12.  Toxicological examination:

The toxicological examination of the defendant comes after the arrest.  Last, these tests occur to obtain scientific, admissible evidence to substantial the DRE’s conclusions.

Contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. for OWI representation

Drunk driving is a crime in Wisconsin.  Drugged driving is a crime in Wisconsin.  Indeed, if you’ve been arrested for OWI involving drugs, there’s a chance you were interviewed by a drug recognition expert.  While these officers have certainly received specialized training, that doesn’t mean the government’s case can’t be beat.

Finally, to speak with a top Wisconsin OWI law firm, contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. at (414) 270-0202.