As a Massachusetts OUI Attorney, it is quite apparent that OUI cases involving drugs are on the rise as more officers received training in drug recognition techniques, commonly known as a DRE evaluation. A charge based of OUI drugs has many of the same defenses involved with alcohol in that the arrest is based on the officer’s subjective observations. With an OUI drugs charge, many officers do not have the qualifications to conclude that a person is under the influence of a particular drug. Further, the law requires the Commonwealth to prove which particular drug a defendant is under the influence of at the time of operation.
One of the explanations for this increase of drugged driving is the growing trend of legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana and the growing dependency of prescription drugs. A recent estimate states that for every six people charged with an OUI, one of those will be drug related driving alone. With this statistic, it is certainly on the radar of police and things are currently being done to crack down on this. On the national level, President Obama has taken the initiative to try and crack down on the problem as well making December National Impaired Driving Prevention Month each of the last three years. His overall goal is to reduce drugged driving by 10 percent by 2015.
The way to achieve the goal Obama has set up is being more strict and catching more offenders who are drugged driving. This becomes a problem as unlike alcohol related OUI, there is no magic number with drug related OUI like .08 with alcohol. Furthermore, there is no convenient breathalyzer test for drugs that displays what and how much drugs the driver was taking. Because of this, officers will have to rely on their own subjective observations of the driver to determine whether they are on drugs and whether the drugs are impairing the driving. To help this problem, the Drug Recognition Expert has been created and in effect since the 1980’s. There are 77 of these experts in Massachusetts and thousands more around the country. These officers are trained to recognize what drugs and how much of that drug a person has been taking just from observations. These DRE’s help the problem that arises when a driver seems impaired but has no alcohol in their system; at this point, the DRE can decide whether the driver is impaired by another substance.
As far as the DRE’s, there is a disagreement among the courts throughout the country in determining whether their testimony is reliable. Some states call this reliable scientific evidence. However, in scientific communities, the process used by DRE’s is not widely accepted as reliable to find drug use. Because of this, some courts rule their testimony unreliable. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has yet to decide whether DRE testimony is scientifically reliable and under what circumstances an exam must be conducted. Massachusetts OUI Lawyers will have to challenge DRE evidence to ensure that what purports to be scientific evidence is reliable in court and not a seemingly objective way for an officer to confirm the subjective opinion to make an arrest.