How NJ Police Conduct Drug Recognition Evaluations

If you have been arrested in New Jersey on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, you may have had a drug recognition evaluation (DRE) screening. The DRE program was developed by the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1970's. It's a twelve-step evaluation used by trained police officers to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or certain prescription medications. Drug recognition evaluations can be fought in court provided you have the proper legal representation. Carmine R. Villani, Esq., founding partner of Villani & Deluca, P.C. has received DRE training and understands the process. Mr. Villani participated in a 3 day training program using the same materials and training used by law enforcement. The DRE program is truly junk science! The problem is that courts have been uniformly accepting the opinions of the officers as experts when the science behind the training and evaluation is flawed. In most cases the conclusions reached by the DRE are not really based upon science but on the admissions of the defendant or from what may be found in the possession of the defendant at the stop. It's no mistake that its a "twelve step" analysis which is really a play on the "twelve step" process of recovery in most addiction programs. Why not make it 11 or 13? The creators of the program I am sure had a laugh at this nuance when it was developed. There really is no validation of the program and some states have even thrown out the program as junk science. Unfortunately, in NJ DRE's are still viewed as authoritative and it creates problems for defendants.  

When Is The Drug Recognition Evaluation Performed?


The DRE test is administered by a DRE officer at the police station or state trooper barracks typically after a suspected driver has taken the breath screening for alcohol intoxication. Years ago if someone received lower than a .08 or .10 as the limit of BAC the case would end there, but in current times if the defendant blows a .04 or .05 case then turns to a DRE as the officer says wait I think this person is under the influence based upon drugs. This obviously creates a huge problem because the only empirical test given is a urine test which does not show the levels of a substance in your system. Imagine this circumstance with marijuana which can stay in your urine for 30 days or more or for cocaine or prescription drugs which can be in your urine for days after ingestion. The idea is to catch signs of drug intoxication that bolster the chemical test which is really irrelevant. Women are at increased risk of arrest when opening their purses to get their license and an officer sees a prescription bottle. Now we have a problem!  

Prescription drugs like xanex, oxycodone, and percocet are creating huge problems when police see these prescriptions in your car. If a DRE gets called its not hard for them to make a case that you are under the influence if you admit to taking your medication. Police are trained to write reports that are designed to show circumstantial proof of guilt. Something as simple as holding your car door as you get out of your vehicle will be characterized as "held door for support". Sitting against your car as you wait for the officer will be characterized as "leaning on car for support". Looking for your credentials in you glove box and going through your old and new insurance card will be characterized as "fumbled with credentials." The simplest actions can be characterized as impaired in a well written report.

It takes a defense lawyer to defend you and make sense of the the one sided police report you will invariably be faced with. 

The DRE will conduct the following 12 steps and submit a report on each step:

Step 1 - Breath Test

A breath test will be administered to determine your BAC. If it comes back negative the impairment will be determined not to be alcohol related.

Step 2 - Interview Of The Arresting Officer

The officer will report their observations to the DRE over the circumstances leading up to the arrest. (if drugs were found prescription or illicit this is where it is stated)

Step 3 - Interviewing The Accused

The DRE officer will interview the person in custody and will make a determination on if the person's erratic behavior is caused by an injury, a medical condition or from a drug impairment.

Step 4 - Eye Examination - Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The DRE officer will have the accused follow a pen or finger with their eyes while having their head remain still.

Step 5 - Divided Attention Psychophysical Tests

The DRE officer will determine the psychomotor impairment based on 4 tests: Romberg Balance, Walk and Turn, One Leg Stand and the Finger to Nose Test.

Step 6 - Vital Signs

Basic vital signs will be taken by the DRE officer including looking inside the accused mouth and nose for recent signs of drug use, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.

Step 7 - Dark Room Exam

Three different measurements of the pupil will be taken by the DRE officer using a device called the pupilometer while exposing the eye to three different lighting conditions.

Step 8 - Exam Muscle Tone

An examination for rigid muscle tone.

Step 9 - Injection Site Exam

The DRE officer will look for injection sites.

Step 10 - Subject Statement

Another round of questioning by the DRE and the reading of the Miranda Rights. (This is the most important one of all! when a defendant says "I smoked marijuana and I took my xanex prescription" the DRE officer will conclude "Suspect under the influence of cannabis and CNS depressant" its that simple)

Step 11 - Opinion Determined

Based on the previous exams the DRE officer will make an 'educated' opinion to the intoxication of the accused.

Step 12 - Toxicology

The DRE officer will request the accused to submit to a urine, blood and a saliva test.

You May be Arrested For DUI On Prescription Medication

prescription pills

Your performance on each of these tests is matched against seven classes of drugs, including hallucinogens, marijuana, inhalants, stimulants, pain killers, PCP and depressants. These may include both illicit drugs and prescription medications. It is important to know that you can be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs while under the influence of prescription medicine. If your prescribed medication is one that affects the central nervous system such as Xanax or Vicodin, you can face a DUI charge in New Jersey if the drug appears in your system after a chemical test.

Call A Lawyer To Fight Your DRE Test Results

DRE results have been admitted in New Jersey courts, but it is not always guaranteed that they will be used against you in your DWI case. An experienced attorney, like those at Villani & DeLuca, P.C., can use their knowledge to challenge the results of these questionable tests in your defense. If you have received a DUI charge in Ocean County or Monmouth County on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, it is highly advised that you have a lawyer on your side in court.

Resources For Drug Recognition Evaluations

Challenging A Blood Test In A DWI Case In New Jersey

DUI And Illegal Drug Penalties

Facts on DWI Blood & Urine Testing

How Drug Recognition Is Used In NJ DWI Cases

Call 732-372-0820 to speak to the DWI attorneys at Villani & DeLuca, P.C. today for your FREE initial consultation. Find out your options when you are faced with a Drug Recognition Evaluation.