Labor Day holiday weekend is unofficially the end of summer for many Pennsylvanians. This leads to many people with the day off work Monday staying out late one last time during the weekend.
Whether its cookouts or nights out at local bars, many people will partake in alcoholic beverages. Increased police presence and the likelihood of possible roadblocks serve their intended purpose and keep many drunk drivers from getting on the roads.
But officers appear to have other targets in mind this year.
LancasterOnline reported on August 23 that DUI task forces in Lancaster County and across Pennsylvania would not only be participating in the National “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign for the two weekends through Labor Day, but special attention would be given to “drugged driving.” Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Association executive director C. Stephen Erni told LancasterOnline that there were 4,694 drugged-driving crashes in Pennsylvania in 2014.
“It’s the new DUI,” the DUI Association’s George Geisler told LancasterOnline. “In short, alcohol arrests are going down, drugged-driving arrests are going up.”
According to the DUI Association, 39 percent of the 52,636 DUI arrests last year in Pennsylvania involved drivers who were charged under the drugged-driving section of state law. That figure was an increase from the 31 percent of arrests in 2013, and more than tripled the 12 percent of DUI arrests it comprised in 2004.
Motorists who are operating a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance should be aware that this means not having alcohol on their breath will not prevent them from being charged with DUI. In fact, LancasterOnline reported that the state has been training police officers as drug-recognition experts (DREs) for several years now.
A DRE is trained to administer a series of tests to form an opinion about whether and to what extent a driver might be impaired by drugs. In Pennsylvania, they recognize the effects of seven major categories of drugs. LancasterOnline said the first DRE was certified in 2004 and there are now 150 in Pennsylvania.
The most important thing drivers should keep in mind is that a motorist does not need to be under the influence of an illegal drug to be charged with a drugged-driving DUI. Geisler noted that a person could be arrested for being under the influence of a legal, illegal, prescription, or over the counter drug.
“It doesn’t matter,” Geisler told LancasterOnline. “If it’s an impairing substance, you’re going to be convicted of DUI.”
The use of DREs is certainly not without its flaws, and many of the conclusions drawn by these officers are extremely subjective. If you are arrested and charged with a drugged-driving DUI in Lancaster County, Chester County, or a surrounding area of Pennsylvania, you should immediately contact an experienced West Chester DUI attorney.
DREs largely serve the purpose of confirming the drug-related DUI suspicions of the arresting officers, but their independent opinions are usually based on tests that are no more reliable than the field sobriety tests used in traditional alcohol-related DUI stops. A conviction is never automatic following a drugged-driving arrest, and your lawyer can conduct an investigation that may determine important police errors that get your criminal charges reduced or completely dismissed.