The Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program has been used in Arkansas for years. Under the program, police officers are trained to recognize certain signs and behaviors associated with impairment from drug use, and they can make arrests based on such assessments.
A trained DRE officer uses a 12-step protocol to determine whether a suspect is under the influence of drugs. Some of the criteria used to conduct this analysis include:
· Observing the suspect’s eyes
· Checking vital signs (pulse, temperature, blood pressure)
· Examining the suspect’s muscle tone
This program has its skeptics. Critics point out that the program fails to take into account other reasons a suspect may exhibit certain indicators, such as physical/mental health conditions or nerves. In addition, the inherently different ways in which different people react to drugs make it impossible to establish a single standard by which to gauge whether someone is under the influence. They assert that such subjective assessments enable police officers to abuse their power and make baseless arrests.
Recently, the issue of false arrests stemming from inaccurate DRE evaluations has made headlines nation-wide. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court over an Atlanta area officer who arrested three different innocent people who, he believed, may have been smoking marijuana. All three plaintiffs had to spend a night in prison, then pay months’ worth of legal fees to get the charges dropped. Even so, the arrests will remain on their permanent records.
The ACLU has attacked the DRE training, claiming it allows police officers to arrest based on nothing more than a hunch. They allege this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure.