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New DUI Investigation Tool On Horizon - Drug Breathalyzer

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In a standard alcohol-related DUI investigation, the police routinely use a portable or preliminary breath test, commonly called a PBT, but no such device has been created to assist in drug-DUI investigations. A routine State College DUI investigation involves a traffic stop for a Motor Vehicle Code violation, an officer detecting the odor of alcohol on the driver's breath or emanating from the vehicle's interior, at which point the officer orders the driver to exit the vehicle and requests that the driver submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). The PBT is then used to develop additional probable cause to believe that the driver is in violation of the DUI law.

Drug Detecting Breathalyzers

Current PBTs used by police only detect the level of alcohol in a person's system and do not detect the presence of drugs. Recent research and testing of new devices may soon change how drug-DUI investigations are handled. According to an article on smithsonianmag.com, Swedish scientists have developed a breathalyzer that can detect the presence of 12 different drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines. The results of the drug breath test device were checked against blood and urine tests, and found to be relatively accurate, but, in 23% of the cases, the breath test produced a false positive for a drug that was not present in the test subject's body. Obviously, improvements to the accuracy of the drug-detecting PBT device must be made before the device becomes a staple of law enforcement officers in DUI investigations.

Drug DUI Investigations

Drug-DUI investigations currently rely heavily upon Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). A DRE is a law enforcement officer that attends specialized training to be certified as a "Drug Recognition Expert." Challenges to the scientific basis of DREs have been raised. Many states have accepted the scientific foundation of DRE  testimony, but other courts have found that the DRE protocol is not supported by the scientific community and held that such testimony is not admissible. To the best of my knowledge, no appellate court opinions in Pennsylvania have dealt with the issue yet.

DUI Defense Attorney

Investigations in criminal cases are an evolving endeavor as technology changes. Criminal defense attorneys must remain current on such changes and ensure that the devices are scientifically tested, approved, calibrated, and used properly by the police.

1 Comment

Perhaps drug-detecting PBTs will cut down on the number of people who are dragged into the hospital on a hunch, but I doubt it.

I am far more comfortable with PBTs than I ever will be with DREs. The pseudoscientific approach taken by DREs is so dangerous because the practitioners believe their own lies. In my experience, these officers mean well but just don't know any better. They don't generally come from a scientific background (which is odd, considering how much overlap there is in the logical processes involved in solving mysteries and basic research).Instead, they take a class, do the rituals they're taught, learn how to couch their hunches in the language of science, and get a raise.

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