How Do the Police Investigate Drivers for Drug Impairment?

Interviewer: Well for prescription drug specifically, are the police using field sobriety tests to try to determine if someone is impaired by them?

Mike Munoz: They might ask outright questions or they might have them do standard field sobriety test.  If an officer sees some type of clues or symptoms where they think that someone might be impaired by an illegal drug or a prescription drug, then what they’ll call in a trained DRE to do an examination.

A DRE Officer Will Be Called to Examine for Signs of Drug Impairment 

They’ll usually take you to an examination room, either a police station or the DUI task force unit and there are numerous tests they do.  They test your pupil size.  They’ll check your blood pressure, your heart rate, your pulse.  They’ll check the rigidity or how flaccid your muscle tone is.  They’ll do HGN.

They’ll do these different tests that are more uniquely indicate possible drug use.  They look for slurred speech.  Some of them are flawed in a sense that the officer himself becomes the judge and jury on these tests.  Second, the DRE makes you do an interview.

Through Questioning and Testing, the DRE Officer Makes the Determination If the Driver Is Impaired from Drug Use

They ask them very specific questions.  Have you taken drugs?  What have you done?  The interesting thing about this is instead of coming up with a hypothesis in proving it’s true as in a scientific method, they’ll get their conclusion first.  They do their tests according to their training and then the officer makes his own conclusion.

If You Inform the Officer You Take a Prescription Medication, Are the Results Then Subjective Instead of Objective?

One of the arguments why these tests are flawed is they can subconsciously or consciously have bias testing and results. This is because they’ve already been told by the subject what exactly the subject took before driving.  They’ll ask, “Have you taken any prescription drugs?”

The subject may say, “Yes, I take anxiety medication.”  With the officer knowing that, now he’s doing tests so when he has to prove that the person either has a CNS depressant or narcotic analgesic in their system, he’s more likely going to make the right call. This is simply because he’s already asked what drugs are in their system.

The officer is supposed to use his training experience based on all the battery of tests and make a judgment of what he thinks the person is impaired by.  It’s a lot easier to make the call when you ask the person ahead of time before you start the test.

Drivers Are Entitled to Refuse to Participate in DRE Testing and Field Sobriety Tests without Drivers’ License Consequences

Interviewer: Are people allowed to refuse the DRE test?

Mike Munoz: Yes and they should.  People should always refuse field sobriety test, DRE tests.  In Arizona, there are no Motor Vehicle Division driver’s license consequences for refusing a field sobriety test or DRE test. People should refuse them. Those tests are created just for the officer to gain evidence. When it comes to protecting your rights, the less evidence that you give—the better it will be for you in the long run.

Interviewer: Do you see that people just do them because they want to be helpful and cooperative?

Mike Munoz: I think most people are programmed to try to be helpful because they think in turn, it’ll help them. A lot of people do these tests when they probably shouldn’t, but I see both.  Some people refuse but I do see both scenarios.

Is Every Driver a Suspect? If You Are Pulled over by Police at Night, It Is Likely They Will Conduct a DUI Investigation

Interviewer: Is everyone pretty much a suspect now when they’re pulled over?

Mike Munoz: That is a possibility.  We’re getting to the point now where if you are pulled over at night, an officer is likely going to get up close to your vehicle, he’s going to shine a light in your face, he’s going to try to smell an odor of alcohol or marijuana, he’s going to look in your eyes and he’s probably going to ask you whether or not you’ve been drinking.  I think any night stop is probably going to be a situation where the person is going to be evaluated as to whether or not they might be a DUI suspect.

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