As a former prosecutor I can tell you Drug DUIs are a lot tougher than alcohol related DUIs. This is especially true with precription drugs.
Prescription meds come with tolerance. How do you know if what you are seeing is a result of the meds (red eyes at 2am).
This is much harder because there is no scent of alcohol. I imagine every person heading in the checkpoint tired is going to look like they are on drugs. When you move past alcohol to drugs it becomes tougher to show the person is under the influence. Therapeutic drug levels become subjective. This is a few of many issues that are out there with drug DUIs.
Getting drunken drivers off the road has long been a priority for police, who operate special patrols and checkpoints over holidays, when drinking often increases.
But another type of impairment – drugged driving – is getting special attention this year as Labor Day weekend approaches.
Drug-impaired driving is the special focus of a national crackdown that began last Sunday and will continue through Labor Day weekend.
DUI task forces in Lancaster County and across Pennsylvania are participating in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign through roving patrols and special checkpoints the next two weekends.
“Most drivers today understand that drinking alcohol and operating a vehicle don’t mix and they can be involved in a crash or arrested,” said C. Stephen Erni, executive director of the PA DUI Association.
“But we have more work to do when it comes to getting them to understand that some prescription medicines or even over-the-counter medicines can cause a driver to be impaired to the point they are incapable of safely driving.”
According to the DUI Association, there were 4,694 drugged-driving crashes in Pennsylvania last year. Some 165 of those were in Lancaster County, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Shifting DUI trends
“It’s the new DUI,” said the DUI Association’s George Geisler. “In short, alcohol arrests are going down, drugged-driving arrests are going up.”
The drug most frequently used by drivers is marijuana, the association said, but drivers also have been charged for impairment caused by prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Drivers under the influence of heroin also is a growing problem as the use of the drug has skyrocketed in recent years.
Statewide, there were 52,636 DUI arrests in 2014. Of that total, 20,691 – or 39 percent – of those drivers were charged under the drugged-driving section of the DUI law, according to the DUI Association.
That’s up from 31 percent the year before, and 12 percent a decade ago.
Over the same period, the number of DUI arrests for alcohol or a combination of alcohol and drugs fell about 19 percent, according to the DUI Association.
A need for expertise
As the problem of drugged-driving has increased, so have efforts to combat it.
Over the past decade, Pennsylvania has been training police officers as drug-recognition experts, or DREs, to help identify when a driver is impaired by drugs.
Since the state’s first DRE was certified in 2004, the number has grown steadily. It reached 50 in 2008, 103 in 2012 and 132 in 2014. Today, there are 150 DREs.
Lancaster County now has five DREs – two state police troopers and three municipal officers – who have completed the intense training and testing required for the certification.
The DREs are on call to assist other police officers around the county who encounter drivers who appear to be impaired by something other than alcohol. DREs are trained to recognize the effects of seven major categories of drugs, and can order toxicology tests to determine the specific substance.
Ande Gonzalez, an assistant district attorney who serves as a liaison with the Lancaster County DUI Task Force, said the portion of drug-only DUI arrests is running at about 10 percent here.
That’s considerably less than the statewide figure, but “it’s a growing problem,” Gonzalez said. “Drugged drivers are just as much or more dangerous than a drunk driver.”
Drivers who combine drugs and alcohol also are a major concern, he said, because the interplay between alcohol and certain drugs can greatly increase impairment. That means that, in some cases, “one plus one equals four” in terms of consumption versus degree of impairment, he said.
Gonzalez has completed the DRE training program, but only sworn police officers can receive the official certification.
“It is a very intensive and very difficult training program,” Gonzalez said. It requires 16 hours of pretraining, 56 hours of classroom work, 100 hours of hands-on training and a 100 percent score on a final exam that takes eight to 16 hours.
“Every drug affects the body in different ways,” he said, “so what a DRE is trained to do is look for those effects in an individual.”
For example, someone who has used heroin or another narcotic analgesic such as opiate pain relievers will have constricted pupils that will not expand when the person enters a dark room, Gonzalez said. Normally, pupils get larger in a dark room as a person’s eyes adjust to the dark by trying to let in more light.
“It’s a huge issue,” the DUI Association’s Geisler said of drug-impaired driving, and motorists need to take responsibility for how any drug affects them – whether it is legal or illegal, prescription or over the counter.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. ” If it’s an impairing substance, you’re going to be convicted of DUI.”
If you or someone you love is charged with a DUI or other crime you need to call our office now at 858-751-4384 for a free consultation.
Remember, whether the charge is a DRUG DUI or alcohol related DUI the checkpoint must be lawful.
What to do if stopped for a San Diego DUI Checkpoint?
First, be polite. If being yourself is being a smart-ass; be somebody else. It is already going downhill when you are stopped. Don’t make it worse. Give him your license and insurance and keep you conversations to a minimum.
Second, decline (POLITELY!) the opportunity to do ANY test – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT – in the FIELD. That includes any field test like walking a line or “following his pen” or blowing into ANY machine in or at his cop car. As a general rule, if you are being asked to do a “field test” or to blow into a hand held device at the point of being stopped, the cop already is planning to arrest you. Don’t give him anymore evidence.
Third, if you ARE arrested, you will be asked to take a test, and likely a breath test. The cop will read you something about taking the test and the last line is “Will you take the State’s Test”? That test will be given to you at the police station, AND NOT IN THE FIELD AT YOUR CAR. I tell my clients to take it. Why? I have had far more success in keeping a failed breath test out of evidence than a refused test. Plus, you might just PASS IT! If you don’t take it, you will DEFINITELY be booked in jail for DUI or APC. However, always ask to have a blood test after you take that breath test. You have that right. And, that can be very smart.
DUI checkpoints must follow eight specific guidelines:
- Supervising officers must make all operational decisions;
- The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral;
- The checkpoint must be reasonably located;
- Adequate safety precautions must be taken;
- The checkpoint’s time and duration should reflect “good judgment”;
- The checkpoint must exhibit sufficient indicia of its official nature;
- Drivers should be detained a minimal amount of time; and
- Roadblocks should be publicly advertised in advance.
What I say above is not legal advice but opinions. You need to consult an attorney if you have any questions.