Lewis County Deputy Coroner Arrested For Pain Pill DUI.

Recently it was reported that, the woman in charge of examining dead bodies for local criminal cases was arrested in July on suspicion of driving under the influence of pain pills, according to an incident report filed by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. While many question the wisdom of making such an arrest newsworthy, it demonstrates that members of law enforcement are not immune to DUI and also identifies interesting issues that many are unaware of:  DUI means Alcohol and/or...


Recently it was reported that, the woman in charge of examining dead bodies for local criminal cases was arrested in July on suspicion of driving under the influence of pain pills, according to an incident report filed by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

While many question the wisdom of making such an arrest newsworthy, it demonstrates that members of law enforcement are not immune to DUI and also identifies interesting issues that many are unaware of:  DUI means Alcohol and/or Drugs.  This holds true for drugs that are legitimately prescribed and taken responsibly under that prescription, as well as illegal drugs. Having a prescription for, and taking the drug precisely as indicated is NOT a legal defense to the charge of DUI-Drugs in Washington.

Unlike an alcohol DUI charge, there is no “per se” limit (alcohol is per se illegal at .08) to determine exactly when, or at what level you are deemed DUI.  Instead, what typically happens is a blood draw after an investigation called a DRE Exam.  First, however, the arresting officer needs to eliminate alcohol as a potential cause and once that is done the officer can invoke the statutory right to draw blood, but the more cautious investigating officer will call in a specially trained officer to conduct a Drug Recognition Evaluator, also known as a Drug Recognition “Expert.”

A DRE is an evaluation made up of questions, physical exam where vitals are taken, as well as Field Sobriety tests conducted. Technically, there are 12 steps to the exam and the final step is a blood drawn which should, or is intended to confirm the category of drug that the officer suspects.

Drug Influence Evaluation Washington State is a copy of the actual form that is used by an officer in his/her investigation.  A close examination of the form shows that there is some expected biographical information as well as Field Sobriety Tests and then the real “voodoo” begins.

First and foremost it is important to recognize that the 3 standardized Field Sobriety Tests (HGN, Walk & Turn, One Leg Stand) are not scientifically validated to recognize drug consumption.  Next comes the evaluation to check for vital signs such as heart rate and pulse which are effected by stress and such an investigation is not a relaxing event. The officer’s are not nurses, nor are doctors, and typically have no more medical training than that of first responder first aid and CPR.

The next exam is a “darkroom” exam where the officer turns off the lights in a room with no windows and then turns them on again and closely watches how your pupils react.  Once again, the officers do not typically have any training with respect to optometry, ophthalmology or any specialized training regarding pupils..  The training they do have is to hold a small card next to the persons face and “estimate” the pupil size based upon the black dots on the card. A quick internet search of pupils will confirm the dozens of different causes of pupil issues

Then there is a muscle tone test to determine if you are tense or have “loose” or “flabby’ skin tone.  Afterwards the officer will search the arm area for “injection” sites, or needle marks.  Then the officer will conduct a drug specific interview and will asks questions hoping to elicit incriminating answers.  Interestingly enough, the answers provided in this portion of the exam almost always correlates with the officer’s opinion of the category of drug he suspects the driver to have ingested.DRE’s are not medically trained to interpret the physical examination and what they mean, or could mean, rather the officer is simply trained to understand that sometimes there are certain physical attributes that can be associated with the ingestion of various drugs. There is by no means a cause and effect associated with any portion of the exam.  In fact, the interview section of the evaluation is the most beneficial to the examiner’s opinion.

It is not unusual for there to be a delay between the arrest/evaluation and charges being filed in court if a blood draw is obtained, because it takes time for the blood to be analyzed by the state crime lab and then reported back to the officer and prosecutor.  The significance of the blood evidence will be testified to by a member of the State lab with respect to what effect the substance identified will typically have on the human body as well as human performance.  It is critical that the defense attorney has an excellent working knowledge of drugs and human performance as well as having the results reviewed by an independent witness with expertise in the field.

From a defense standpoint, the exam itself should be declined, in part because of the issues identified above, but also because the ultimate opinion of the officer is filtered through the eyes of a investigator who is looking to use the information obtained to support his/her opinion and to be used to secure a conviction for the charge being investigated.  If the officer did not have some suspicion to believe drugs were ingested, there would be no investigation. Therefore the exam is somewhat self-serving and self-authenticating.

While it is true that an officer is not the one “on trial” in DUI cases, or any case, but since they are the ones accumulating the “evidence” their investigation must be free of  mistakes and must utilize only the best possible methods with the strictest adherence to the law and rights of citizens.  Anything less is irresponsible to say the least.

Ultimately, the proof will be in the final request for a blood draw should and this request NOT be refused.  A refusal will likely result in the refusal being used against a driver in a criminal trial and the “evidence” accumulated in the above exam will be uncontested along with the officer’s ultimate opinion based on the above flawed exam.  A wrongfully accused person will not have the evidence necessary to refute the charges.

Furthermore, a refusal will set up a situation where the Department of Licensing will seek to revoke the driver’s license for at least a year.  Ironically, however, a blood draw that results in a drug being found in the driver’s system will NOT cause any Departmental action due to the lack of a per se limit for drugs.  There can only be a licensing action via a criminal punishment upon conviction.  Another reason for NOT refusing a blood draw request is because the Washington Supreme Court upheld the law that permits an officer to obtain a search warrant to draw your blood against a driver’s will.

The educated driver, should refuse ALL questions and requests for tests and should invoke the right to speak with an attorney before any tests or questions are answered.  This is not because a driver is hiding anything, but interaction at the side of the road is a critical juncture that can set the stage for the future defense.  Speaking with an attorney at any stage of a DRE investigation is a driver’s right and one of the most important rights available at the time.

Consulting with a private attorney or a public defender after hours will provide a driver with information that will protect the driver’s interest.  This right should never be waived at any stage of any criminal investigation.  Requesting an attorney does not make you uncooperative, nor does it mean a driver has “refused’ a breath or a blood test.  What it means is that the driver is aware of his/her rights and is making good legal choices at a time where such choices are critical to how the continued interaction with the officer proceeds as well as what “evidence” can or will be obtained next.  DUI is a serious and complex charge with far reaching consequences and the wrong choice at a critical stage could mean the difference between a dismissal of charges and a verdict of guilty as charged.