In another step to crack down on rising numbers of individuals operating a vehicle the influence (OVI), commonly known as DUI, on the roads, Ohio has begun enacting a new strategy to gauge whether a driver is intoxicated or drugged while behind the wheel. Funded by federal grants, Ohio became the 48th state to train officers to act as DREs, or Drug Recognition Experts. This gives certain trained officers the ability and authority to analyze whether a person is under the influence of drugs, even if the drugs have been prescribed and are being used legally. These officers are also trained in spotting the differences between a drunk driver and a drug-impaired one.
Beginning in 2010, Ohio has specially trained 71 law enforcement officers for this task, four of which operate in Columbus. The use of these officers has become more widespread, and in 2012 alone 480 evaluations were performed on drivers.
Law enforcement is enthusiastic about the new assessment procedure, and supports the new ability to assess drivers. The program claims to have an 86 percent accuracy rate when compared to urine and blood tests. State officials have praised the ability for the trained officers to be able to comment on a driver’s mental state and how much he or she is actually impaired as opposed to simple numbers that they say may not reflect an individual’s state.
However, criminal defense lawyers aren’t thrilled by this new prospect. Some opponents of the DREs say that the accuracy rate is far lower than publicized, and they cite the subjectivity of personal assessment rather than scientific evidence as cause for concern. Critics worry that the patrolmen will push alleged offenders into participating in the evaluation and incriminating themselves when they have no legal obligation to do so. The program is new and those accused might not be aware of their rights in this situation. The legal ramifications of refusing to submit to a blood of urine test may also scare drivers into succumbing to the assessment, despite the fact that they cannot be punished for doing so.
Whether the assessments of these DREs will be permissible in court remains to be seen. No case has been brought before a judge yet, but when one is it will set a precedent for using these tests in the future. DUI attorneys are worried about the outcome, however. If a DRE’s assessment is deemed legal proof of impairment, then even if a driver’s BAC is below the legal limit they may still be facing jail time, fines, and a mark on their record.
Ohio plans to continue furthering the program while also training the rest of its officers in spotting drug use. For those that are pulled over and accused of drug use, your rights can be confusing. The best course of action may be to refuse to answer any questions or make any statements without a defense lawyer present.