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New Jersey Drug Recognition Expert Court Case Settled

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled police Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) testimony can be used as evidence in court against impaired drivers.

They voted 5-2 in favor of the majority decision. The New Jersey Supreme Court has set the standard for a driver to be examined once pulled over for consumption of alcohol, opiates, and cannabis.

The NJ Office of Public Defender and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of NJ fought against DREs.

Thus, the case was State v. Olenowski represents a defeat for those wishing to protect New Jersey cannabis consumers from the possibility of police infringement of civil liberties.

It has been an issue running through the courts for some time concerning many public officials.

New Jersey Test for Being Drunk or High While Driving

The decision establishes a 12 step program used by DREs that includes breath and tests along with interviews and eye examinations that are scientific and reliable enough.

“New Jersey’s DREs have performed very well in identifying drivers who are unable to drive a motor vehicle safely because of the presence in their system of impairing drugs,” the report reads.

DRES are supposed to be able to tell when drivers are high or drunk. It takes a combination of roadside tests, bloodwork, and breathalyzers to figure it out.

Now, they will be able to interrogate an individual thoroughly in an “interview.”  Step 7 involves a “dark room examination” to examine the eyes’ reactions to light.

Step 10 concedes DRE “can proceed only in conformance with formal admonition and strict observance of the driver’s Constitutional rights.”

Retired appellate judge Joseph Lisa was appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to address the issue.

“We are grateful for this morning’s New Jersey Supreme Court decision recognizing that our trained Drug Recognition Experts have reliable insights that courts can hear in drug-impaired-driving cases,” said New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin. “Every New Jerseyan deserves to be able to get where they are going safely, and today’s ruling will help us hold impaired drivers accountable when they endanger pedestrians, cyclists, and their fellow motorists.”

Michael Olenowksi himself died in 2020 at the age of 57. He was pulled over twice in 2015 and initiated the lawsuit. A breathalyzer found he was not drunk. The toxicology reports found he was on depressants.

Drug Recognition Expert Case Consequences

Toxicology reports of urine and blood tests are the most effective.

A driver can refuse cooperation. But that is not always a good idea.

Experts can say impairment is “consistent with” the effects of certain drugs.

The New Jersey Supreme Court decided DREs can only testify when a toxicology report is taken. DRE testimony can be used against a defendant in court if you refuse to cooperate.

Attorneys for defendants can question their methods and findings in court, though. DRE testimony cannot be the sole determining factor in finding guilt.

Unreliable Tests

The court admitted the difficulty of the task.

“We presume that researchers will continue to study the efficacy of the DRE methodology, and we do not foreclose future litigation with appropriate testimony to re-examine it,” Judge Jack Sabatino wrote.

New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis dissented from the decision from the majority’s vote. They noted DRE testimony is not reliable.

“The majority opinion discounts legitimate concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the DRE protocol and upholds the admission of DRE evidence despite acknowledging that ‘the factors of testability and false positive error rate are largely inconclusive’ and that ‘DRE testimony does not, in and of itself, establish impairment,’” Pierre-Louis explained.

She cited multiple studies where DRE testimony was not seen as reliable.

She also questioned their accuracy. Pierre-Louis noted drug recognition experts said 78% of individuals whose toxicology tests showed no presence of drugs were impaired by drugs. The high court said it could not determine an overall error rate.

Many New Jersey businesses have wanted a standard to hold their workers accountable for some time.

Everyone responds to cannabis differently. Every New Jersey driver who consumes cannabis should know their limits and act responsibly. One messed up person having a bad day can make the whole New Jersey cannabis community of consumers look bad.

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