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Arizona's methods for fighting drug-impaired driving

It's no secret how police determine if they will charge you with driving under the influence of alcohol. Such an arrest typically begins with an officer noticing something -- your eyes, your behavior or the odor of alcohol on your breath. What follows is a series of subjective tests the officer may initiate to confirm the suspicion that you have been drinking.

However, what does an officer do to confirm the suspicion that you are driving under the influence of drugs? Currently, there are no reliable field tests for drug impairment, but Arizona police are making more arrests than ever.

Rise in drug-related DUIs

Last year, Arizona law enforcement arrested over 26,000 drivers for DUI. Among those drivers, almost 5,000 did not have alcohol in their systems, but police determined they drove while impaired by drugs. This is more than twice the number of drug-related DUI arrests that police made just six years earlier. Some believe this increase results from the rise in the use of medical marijuana.

You probably know that the nationally accepted blood alcohol concentration for legal impairment is .08. Police who pull you over under suspicion of DUI will ask you to perform a few tests of coordination, and based on the officer's opinion of your success with those tests, he or she may arrest you and take you to the police station. There, an officer will draw your blood to measure your BAC.

What if I haven't been drinking?

There is no legal standard for drugs in your system. In fact, different drugs produce different effects, and a police officer may not be easily able to determine if a driver is impaired, and if so, what drug the driver has taken. Therefore, Arizona has trained several hundred Drug Recognition Experts who come to the scene if an arresting officer believes the cause of the driver's potential impairment comes from the use of drugs instead of alcohol.

If this has happened to you, the DRE likely followed a 12-step process for ascertaining if you were under the influence of drugs. The steps include observing you, asking you questions, considering the observations of the arresting officer and finally taking a urine sample. DREs spend several weeks training so they can supposedly identify if you have consumed drugs and even the kinds of drugs you may have taken before a court-ordered urine sample confirms their hypothesis.

Not infallible

Of course, the DRE is not always right, and behavior that is suspect may have any number of causes besides drugs, including certain medical conditions. If an officer arrested you on suspicion of a drug-related DUI, you have every reason to fight any charges filed against you. If the arresting officer or DRE acted inappropriately or violated your rights to gain evidence of impairment, having a strong criminal defense will make all the difference.

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