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Driving under the influence offenses encompass more than just alcohol intoxication. A notable amount of DUI cases involve drug offenses. DUI offenses can include the use of illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, PCP, and prescription drugs like Xanax. Police officers are trained extensively on how to recognize if a driver is intoxicated by alcohol.
Since symptoms related to drug intoxication vary by drug and can differ from alcohol intoxication, agencies are now training officers on how to specifically recognize individuals under the influence of drugs. These officers are known as drug recognition experts (“DRE”). The origin of this program began with the Los Angeles Police Department. Currently the DRE program is overseen by the California Highway Patrol, while law enforcement agencies across the country have also adopted this program.
Initially when a driver is pulled over at a traffic stop, the officer will evaluate the individual to see if he or she shows any symptoms of alcohol intoxication. The officer will examine the driver for bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and slurred speech. However, these symptoms may not appear in a driver who is under the influence of drugs. Furthermore, a preliminary alcohol sensor (“PAS”) device would not reveal drug use, but only a blood alcohol concentration of zero, if the driver hadn’t consumed any alcohol. In situations like these, a DRE officer would be notified to come to the scene and aid in the DUI investigation.
Before assessing the driver, the DRE officer will confirm that the driver’s BAC does not indicate that he or she was driving under the influence of alcohol. The DRE officer will determine if the driver needs to participate in several field sobriety tests, after checking the driver for signs of drug use. These procedures may involve looking into the driver’s nose and mouth to locate drug residue, checking the driver’s pulse, testing the driver’s eyes for signs of horizontal gaze nystagmus and vertical gaze nystagmus, and examining the driver’s pupils. The DRE officer will also request a blood sample from the driver to test for a panel of drugs.
Once the case goes to trial, the DRE officer will present any evidence that led him or her to believe that the driver was under the influence of drugs while driving. The DRE officer will also include information about his or her training that is relevant to the case. There are instances where symptoms perceived as drug intoxication by the DRE officer are actually a reflection of an unrelated medical condition like fatigue or allergies. In addition, some drivers may have simply exhibited odd behavior induced by nerves. Given these mishaps, the defense has the ability to challenge the DRE officer’s claims by evidencing how these observations are incorrect and can be explained by other causes than drug use.
In some cases, the defense will request a blood split order. After arrest, the blood work taken from the driver is submitted to a crime lab for toxicological analysis. The law protects drivers by requiring that a portion of the blood is left untested and preserved. This portion is known as a “blood split,” and can be tested by an independent lab at a later date, upon request of the defense. Some cases, that involved testing of the blood split by an independent lab, have shown that the crime lab’s testing was unreliable or incomplete.
Being charged with a DUI drug offense results in the need for consultation from a Los Angeles DUI Attorney. Protect yourself and understand the details of your case by scheduling a consultation with an experienced Los Angeles DUI Lawyer promptly.