How Do You Get Busted For Driving Stoned Here Are A Few Police Drug Detection Tactics
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“If you pull someone over who’s driving as if he’s impaired, but he blows less than a 0.08 into the breathalyzer, there are times when you say, ‘Whoa, this guy is way too messed up for that amount of alcohol.’ ”
So says Mike Iwai, 37, who is not only a Senior Trooper with the Oregon State Police but also a trained DRE—Drug Recognition Expert—one of about 200 in Oregon alone. Created in Los Angeles in the ’70s—why is that not a surprise?—DRE programs are now in police forces in 45 states. Think of a DRE as the biped equivalent of a drug-sniffing beagle.
Even if you’re as Jägermeister-free as Promises on Easter, the cops can haul you to HQ if they believe you are “impaired to a noticeable and perceptible degree.” That’s the official phrase. Once there, you undergo a 12-step program, although this one won’t help Gary Busey.
You get to take a more formal breathalyzer test, to ensure you aren’t drunk.
The DRE interviews the arresting officer to learn about your roadside demeanor, your driving, the bad words you uttered, and your appearance. So dress appropriately if you plan to drive high. “I’ll ask the officer if he smelled cannabis,” adds Iwai, “or if he saw any drug paraphernalia.”
The DRE asks what food or prescriptions you’ve ingested, looks to see if you have rapid horizontal eye movements, and takes your pulse the first of three times. “A normal pulse is 60 to 90 beats per minute,” notes Iwai. “Meth is a stimulant that will raise those rates, alcohol is a depressant that will lower them. If it’s marijuana, the subject’s blood pressure and pulse will be up, but body temp will be normal.”
Now you’ll be checked for rapid vertical eye movements, and—a Michael Phelps moment, here—you’ll be asked to cross your eyes. “Most people with cannabis in their system can’t do that,” says Iwai. Ironic, eh? “Plus, this is when I administer the divided-attention test, where you close your eyes and estimate the passage of 30 seconds. You’d be amazed how some drugs distort the passage of time. I’ve had suspects say, ‘Okay, time’s up,’ after only 10 seconds. I also ask, ‘How did you arrive at that estimate?’ ” Guessing isn’t advised.
Next comes the standard coordination tests familiar to all DUI candidates: Walk nine steps heel-to-toe, close your eyes and touch your nose, and balance on one leg. “Impaired suspects will drop a foot or start hopping,” says Iwai. More precinct-house amusement.
Second pulse check. “By now, we’ll be 45 minutes into the test,” says Iwai. “The guy knows me, and he should be calming down. His pulse should be slowing.”
Time to measure pupil size using a pupilometer. What else would you call it? “Then,” Iwai explains, “we turn off the room lights for 90 seconds”—your big chance to make a run for it—“and after that we shine a penlight into your pupil for 15 seconds. If you’re not impaired, the pupil will constrict and stay constricted. But cannabis causes rebound dilation—that is, the pupils constrict then grow again in a rhythmic fashion.” Uh-oh.
Time for a massage. “We check muscle rigidity,” says Iwai. “Heroin will cause loose, flaccid muscle tone, meth will cause you to tighten up. Cannabis leaves your muscles in a normal state.” Finally, a test we can pass.
Your pulse is taken for the third and final time. Meanwhile, the DRE looks for injection sites. “Did you know,” asks Iwai, “that a one-inch track represents 50 to 100 injections?” We did not.
Is that your final answer? “At this point,” says Iwai, “I show the suspect the sheet I’m filling out, then say to him, ‘This tells me you’re impaired, and it leads me to believe you’re taking such and such. Is that true?’ Usually, he’ll tell me, and that’s when he hears his Miranda rights.”
“No matter what he tells me, I record whether I believe he’s under the influence,” Iwai continues, “and I record what drug I suspect caused it. Or it could be a poly drug—a little meth, a little marijuana, maybe a prescription med, too.”
Tinkle time! A urine sample—not the officer’s—is shipped to the crime lab for a toxicology tell-all, with everyone eagerly awaiting the appearance of anything from Limbaugh-quality OxyContin to a Willie Nelson quantity of THC. “There’s no specific level of THC that puts you over the limit,” Iwai notes, although any trace at all requires all manner of legal ’splainin’.
And with that, your 12 steps are finished, and so, possibly, are you, unless you request 12 more steps—selecting jurors.
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