Why a DRE Evaluation is Junk Science

Posted by Richard Lawson | May 07, 2017 | 0 Comments

After watching an 11Alive news report on so-called "drug recognition experts," I was reminded that hubris is considered a sin.

The reporter did an excellent job showing that innocent people can, in fact, be charged with a crime.  Of course, police officers make the correct decision to make an arrest all the time.  However, the most interesting thing about the story was their lack of remorse or the ability to admit they made a mistake.  

Here is the back story:  250 Georgia police officers have been trained as drug recognition experts.  The training is designed to give officers tools to determine if someone is under the influence of drugs (whether prescribed or illegal).

In the 11Alive story, two clearly unimpaired people were arrested by an officer from the Cobb County Police Department.  The officer "determined" both were under the influence of marijuana.  They both agreed to a blood test, and both tests came back negative.

One would think that Cobb County would give an apology to those people, but if my readers believe that, they would be dead wrong.  

Instead of apologizing, the Cobb County Police Department has doubled down in their support of the arresting officer.  In both cases, spokespersons from the police stated that the GBI Crime Lab result is likely wrong and that their officers can detect the use of drugs better than the crime lab.

Let us examine the absurdity of their response.  When the crime lab result is positive for alcohol or drugs, it is always right, 100% of the time. Prosecutors use this against my clients in every case.  When my clients protest that the result cannot be correct, based on their lifestyle, it is just too bad.  The crime lab report is correct!

However, when the result comes back negative, the result cannot be correct because their DRE trained police officer can detect trace amounts of marijuana or even already metabolized amounts of marijuana.


Well my friends, IT DOES NOT.  So, the position of the Cobb County Police is that smoking marijuana even days or weeks before driving can somehow make someone a less safe driver.

Sadly, this is what we as Georgia DUI Defense Attorneys deal with every day.  Think about all the people who refuse a chemical test out of frustration and as a result look guilty. 

The most interesting thing about the new report was that the female driver wanted an immediate test to prove her innocence, and Georgia does not have such testing.

Secondly, Georgia no longer has expungement.  As a result, her criminal record can be restricted, but judges, prosecutors, and police officers will still see that she was arrested for a DUI.  She will lose the benefit of the doubt the next time she has a police interaction.  That is remarkably unfair to her.

Finally, the real problem here is hubris.  The idea that a police officer (or any other person) can become an expert at observing someone and determining that they are on a particular drug is complete and total junk science.  In fact, it is not science at all. 

Physicians receive years of training and would never diagnose someone without a confirming blood test.  To do so would be malpractice.  Yet, police officers can get a month of training and think they can identify what drugs a person has taken by observation alone?  As John McEnroe used to say to the referee, "surely you can't be serious."

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Georgia DUI Defense Attorneys

At the Law Office of Richard S. Lawson, we have offices conveniently located throughout metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia. If we do not have a convenient office, we will come to you. We practice throughout Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. If your case is in an area we do not serve, we will find you an attorney in your area free of charge. Our office is part of a State-wide network of Georgia DUI Lawyers. Contact us 24/7 for immediate legal help. Our attorneys are standing by. Your DUI Case will not defend itself. Your Best Georgia DUI Defense Begins Here!