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Bogus Stoned Driving Arrests Highlight Dubious Methods of 'Drug Recognition Experts'

A lawsuit by three sober drivers who were busted for DUI questions the pot-detecting abilities of DREs.

Cobb County Police DepartmentCobb County Police DepartmentTo the untrained eye, Katelyn Ebner seems completely sober during her 28-minute roadside encounter with Cobb County, Georgia, police officer Tracy Carroll, who has pulled the 23-year-old waitress over for failing to maintain her lane as she made a left turn. But Carroll, who was designated a "drug recognition expert" (DRE) after undergoing 160 hours of special training, perceives "numerous indicators" that Ebner is under the influence of marijuana. Ebner repeatedly assures him she does not "smoke weed" or "do any of that stuff" and volunteers to prove it by taking a drug test. "You're going to jail, ma'am," he replies. "I don't have a magical drug test that I can give you right now."

Carroll does not need a magical drug test, because he is a magical drug test—or so the Cobb County Police Department would have you believe. But the experiences of innocent motorists like Ebner, who were arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana based on Carroll's hunch, only to be cleared by negative blood tests, suggest otherwise. This week three of them, including Ebner, filed a federal lawsuit that casts doubt on the drug-detecting abilities of DREs like Carroll.

The plaintiffs, who are represented by the ACLU of Georgia, were all stopped for briefly touching or crossing the line at the edge of their lanes—an offense that every driver on the road probably has committed at some point. They were all evaluated by Carroll, who deemed them stoned despite their protests to the contrary. They were all arrested for DUI and spent a night in jail. And in all three cases, as WXIA, the NBC station in Atlanta, revealed in an exposé last May, the DUI charges were eventually dropped after blood tests found no trace of marijuana—neither active THC nor inactive metabolites.

"As a result of their prosecutions," the ACLU complaint says, "Plaintiffs suffered the loss of liberty, extensive monetary losses, reputational damages, humiliation, and emotional distress," all "because a police officer had a hunch, based on deeply flawed drug-recognition training, that they might have been smoking marijuana." The ACLU notes that Carroll used a "watered-down version" of the 12-step DRE protocol, which it says "is itself riddled with flaws, based on discredited studies, and irresponsibly entrusts police officers with performing essentially medical or scientific tests."

The arbitrariness and subjectivity of the DRE tests can be seen in the dashcam video of Ebner's traffic stop. Ebner, who says this is the first time she has ever been stopped by police, is lucid, calm, polite, and cooperative throughout the video, despite her mounting anxiety about the length of the detention and her growing realization that she is going to jail even though she has committed no crime. But in Carroll's mind, the most innocent detail confirms his suspicion that she must be high.

Carroll notes that Ebner' eyes are watery, which she says is a reaction to a cleaning solution she uses at work. (Other supposed signs of intoxication include bloodshot eyes, glassy eyes, constricted pupils, and dilated pupils.) Carroll examines Enber's tongue, presumably looking for the "green coating" that police dubiously claim indicates recent marijuana use. He performs a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which looks for an eye twitch that is a good indicator of drunkenness but has not been validated as a sign of cannabis consumption.

Carroll has Ebner blow into a breathalyzer, which confirms that she has not been drinking. He has her perform several roadside sobriety tests, including balancing on one foot, walking heel to toe on an imaginary line, extending her arms and touching her nose, and closing her eyes for 30 seconds. As the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts noted in a recent ruling, the usefulness of such tests in detecting marijuana intoxication is still a matter of scientific dispute.

Ebner, in any case, seems to perform all of her assigned tasks just fine. Yet Carroll is determined not to be satisfied. As Ebner walks the imaginary line, betraying no obvious sign of intoxication, Carroll mutters, "improper number of steps." Presumably he also counted against her the extra six seconds she kept her eyes closed while mentally timing half a minute.

"You're showing me indicators that you have been smoking marijuana," Carroll says as he handcuffs Ebner. "I believe you're an impaired and less safe driver. That's why you were unable to maintain your lane."

Ebner is dismayed. "I can 1,000 percent guarantee you that I don't do that stuff," she says. "I can take a drug test. I can do any of that. You can call my mother. You can search my car. You can do everything."

The lawsuit argues that Ebner and her two co-plaintiffs, Princess Mbamara and Ayokunle Oriyomi, both college students, felt they had no choice but to submit to drug tests, especially after Carroll told them that state law required them to do so and that their driver's licenses would be suspended if they refused. Under the circumstances, the complaint says, the consent was not genuine, and since there was no warrant the blood tests violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Ebner, Mbamara, and Oriyomi also argue that Carroll had no "justifiable basis" for subjecting them to sobriety tests and no probable cause to arrest them.

"Defendant Carroll's pattern and practice of enforcing DUI-drug infractions," the complaint says, "was to arrest an individual based on nothing more than a hunch, which would be invariably ratified by the results of an ad hoc smattering of tests he administered, which were divorced from any rigorous methodology and were without the foundational underpinning necessary to amount to legal justification to arrest....The way that Cobb County Police Officers such as Defendant Carroll are taught to and do administer their testing for the detection of impairment by drugs is designed to make innocent behavior appear incriminating and to make exculpatory behavior appear irrelevant." The ACLU argues that the Cobb County Police Department licensed, endorsed, and encouraged such pseudoscientific methods, "allowing officers artificially knighted with 'Drug Recognition Expert' status to falsely believe that they have a special and unique ability to detect marijuana use."

Even after blood tests confirmed that Ebner, Mbamara, and Oriyomi were telling the truth when they denied being under the influence of marijuana, the Cobb County Police Department defended Carroll's methods. Amazingly, the complaint notes, his superiors "continued to state that even if Defendant Carroll had known of the negative results of Plaintiff Ebner's blood test at the time she was arrested, nonetheless there would have been probable cause for her arrest."

Who are you going to believe? Some fancy lab test or Officer Carroll's gut?

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  • Citizen X - #6||

    Be near a dumbass cop like a thug, get arrested like a thug.

  • Longtobefree||

    Bunch of science deniers.
    If the cop says you are high, you damn well better be high.

  • Longtobefree||

    On a re-read I just noticed all of the evil pot smokers just happened to be young and female.
    No power trips here, no way.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    How Officer Tracy Carroll gets his jollies is none of your concern, civilian!

  • Zeb||

    Hmm. I wonder if the ones he let go were also young and female?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I'm guessing he has a small tool............for performing an oral test on those females. The ones that get the fluid out of the tiny tool are clearly not high and are allowed to leave.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    - There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
    - Are there? What are they? Tell us. - Do they hurt?
    - Tell me, what do you do with witches?
    - Burn them!
    - And what do you burn, apart from witches?
    - More witches! - Wood!
    - So why do witches burn?
    - 'Cause they're made of wood? - Good!
    - How do we tell if she is made of wood? - Build a bridge out of her.
    - But can you not also make bridges out of stone?
    - Oh, yeah.
    - Does wood sink in water?
    - No, it floats. - Throw her into the pond!
    - What also floats in water?
    - Bread. - Apples.
    - Very small rocks. - Cider! Great gravy.
    - Cherries. Mud. - Churches.
    - Lead. - A duck!
    - Exactly.
    - So, logically--
    - If she weighs the same as a duck...
    - she's made of wood.
    - And therefore?
    - A witch!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Who are you, who is so wise in the ways of science?

  • Rhywun||

    'Tis a silly chat room.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    I am Arpaio, King of the Xenophobes.

  • Trollificus||

    First time I heard that line, following the prior exposition of the "scientific method, was maybe the hardest I ever laughed at a line in movie. My friend, who had never seen the movie either and was suffering from cracked ribs (construction accident), didn't forgive me for a long time.

    It does come in handy though. Most recently when someone rejected disposal of nuclear waste into the sun, not because of the obvious economic drawbacks, but because "Haven't we already polluted Earth enough without polluting the sun, too?" Her response to my inquiry was a recitation of her scientific bona fides. Despairing laughter is a thing isn't it?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    That sort of thing is why I assume everyone who isn't me is completely stupid until they prove otherwise.

  • Finrod||

    Can you please relate what her 'scientific bona fides' were, so we know not to trust anything she references?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    IIRC, that should actually be:

    - Exactly. So, logically--

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Precisely.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    for ailing to maintain her lane

    I bet she had a license to ill too.

  • mashed potatoes||

    My mom was surprisingly good.

  • mashed potatoes||

    At picking up on stoned teenagers..

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'll say!

  • mashed potatoes||

    I walked right into that one..

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    This week three of them, including Ebner, filed a federal lawsuit that casts doubt on the drug-detecting abilities of DREs like Carroll.

    If the court upheld that a dog scratching itself was 'alerting' on the presence of drugs, you're even less likely to convince the court that a cop 'alerting' on the presence of drugs is somehow less worthy than the abilities of a canine.

  • some guy||

    With dogs, though, they could always claim that the dog was correctly responding to a quantity of drugs that's too small to be detected by other means. This time we have direct evidence that the cop was actually wrong in his assessment. Unless Officer Carroll plans to claim that he can detect marijuana better than a blood test.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But we have direct evidence that Dogs have been wrong in their assessment, and even more direct evidence (defined by lack thereof) that no one can really clearly define what constitutes an 'alert'.

    Unless Officer Carroll plans to claim that he can detect marijuana better than a blood test.

    He doesn't have to. All he has to do is 'alert' and, as the police department said, that's enough for 'probable cause' and an arrest. Not even the police will tell you that every arrest results in a conviction.

    He made his assessment, he found probable cause, he made an arrest. His training worked. There is no condition in which he can be 'wrong'. It's just like the dog search.

  • Libertymike||

    Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held, in Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, that "police officers may not testify to the administration and results of [field sobriety tests] as they do in operating under the influence of alcohol prosecutions."

    The court also held that a "police officer may testify to observed physical characteristics of the driver such as blood shot eyes, drowsiness, and lack of coordination. The officer is not permitted to offer an opinion that these characteristics mean that the driver is under the influence of marijuana."

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Which is great news... how does Massachusetts square that with a dog search?

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    A canine searches for the presence of contraband of one type of another. So the dog is searching for scents particular to the contraband he is trained to find. Dogs can in fact perform those searches reliably. The problem in most cases is not the dog but the handler, who can "cue" the dog on searches (even unintentionally). The dog should perform the search without handler feedback at all unless and until the dog actually produces the "alert" signal. But all too often I see videos where the handler is verbally encouraging the dog where the dog has produced no result, which only encourages the dog (a) to search harder and (b) produce a result.

  • Trollificus||

    Sooo...if the officer scratches, and licks his balls, is that an incriminating "alert"? And do his fellow officers have to shoot him, as seems to be the trained policy re: canines?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Ok, so what if Officer A scratches and licks the balls of Officer B?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    especially after Carroll told them that state law required them to do so and that their driver's licenses would be suspended if they refused

    Driving is a privilege, not a right, so the state can make you cluck like a chicken and revoke your license if you refuse.

    Funny how so many layers of authority just kind of quietly stacked up on itself while we were all sleeping.

  • some guy||

    Apparently just being alive was enough to require you to buy health insurance. Anything goes now.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Be born like a thug, get sold to insurance companies by the government like a thug.

  • Brother Kyfho||

    > Driving is a privilege, not a right, so the state can make you cluck like a chicken and revoke your license if you refuse

    The Operator's License is a contract with the corporate State of [x] to obey all the statutes and regulations regarding "driving"

  • Jury Nullification||

    "Driving is a privilege, not a right, so the state can make you cluck like a chicken and revoke your license if you refuse"

    And no law is valid if it requires me in any way to waive any fundamentally protected right in order to exercise any other right OR alleged privilege.

  • GILMORE™||

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    When you're a star, they let you do it.

  • Juice||

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And everyone

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    Ebner is dismayed. "I can 1,000 percent guarantee you that I don't do that stuff," she says. "I can take a drug test. I can do any of that. You can call my mother. You can search my car. You can do everything."

    Not that I blame anyone for doing whatever they have to to avoid arrest, but goddammit every time someone flushes their own rights down the toilet, all of our rights get flushed down the toilet.

  • Jury Nullification||

    "You can call my mother. You can search my car. You can do everything."

    Dangerous words. In Texas, that, and less, could get your pussy searched on the roadside.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    We can hear you here in Texas, you know. Words can hurt. And so can other things.

  • aajax||

    Nightstick up the wazoo? Rubber hose?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Let's just say our Stetsons are made extra-wide and extra-stiff for a reason.

  • leedsphone||

    Sticks and stones mat break my bones but words will never hurt me, who ever came up with thst ryme never went to court in america, i think the sticks and stones will only hurt for awhile, where the words will hurt forever plus 1 day

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Amazingly, the complaint notes, his superiors "continued to state that even if Defendant Carroll had known of the negative results of Plaintiff Ebner's blood test at the time she was arrested, nonetheless there would have been probable cause for her arrest."

    I like how the Cobb County PD is straight up admitting that you don't even have to be suspected of a crime to get arrested and locked up. Because fuck you, civilian!

  • Juice||

    Even though there's no probable cause for arrest, there's still probable cause.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Eh, there's probably cause.

  • aajax||

    Well, she touch the yellow line. That's gotta be worth some time in Cracker County.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    BAD drug-sniffing cop! BAD! SIT! No treat for you!

  • Lily Bulero||

    "I don't have a magical drug test that I can give you right now."

    No, I'm just going to arrest you and find out later if you're guilty or not.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "her two co-plaintiffs, Princess Mbamara and Ayokunle Oriyomi"

    So THAT's what went awry with the Han Solo film's production.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    I have naturally occurring nystagmus. So Officer Carrol would believe that I have cannabis continually coursing through my veins.

  • Spartacus||

    Are you saying you don't?

  • Spartacus||

    I am going to start a company to offfer police specialized training on how to recognize impairment based on the size and shape of one's head. There is a body of research about the relationship between head shape and intelligence, and a body of research about intelligence and being stoned, so it's totally scientific. It's an 80 hour course and will only cost the taxpayers $5000 per trainee. If someone challenges it in court, I will testify as an expert for another $20K.

    Who's with me?

  • Eeyore||

    Don't forget the classic test based solely on the color of skin.

  • Curtisls701||

    I'm very sure that the International Association of Police Chiefs nearly came when the realized they could use the phrase "12 steps" with regard to their program.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    We have to be careful not to adopt the OTHER narrative and demand "objective" data, because the winds invariably shift the other direction and we end up with an over-reliance on that test instead. Blood-alcohol level is the perfect example. People lose sight of the fact that BAC is a very, very poor indicator of level of impairment (high sensitivity but poor specificity), and there's a lot of evidence that trained humans do a better job of detecting intoxication than this test.

  • Tony||

    But humans are subjective and regardless of their superiority over those machines (which aren't even subject to empirical scrutiny, being private intellectual property), easier to challenge in court than some agreed-upon "objective" math. So it's no wonder they go with the whiz-bang machine and simply shoo away lawsuits with the help of MADD by appealing to public emotion.

  • Tony||

    I remember being a kid and thinking cops pulled over people for driving erratically, as in being a danger to other drivers and pedestrians, and only then did people get DUIs. Now for some strange reason it turns out that they will spend the better part of their evening harassing people and then filling out the paperwork over a barely noticeable lane swerve or a missing decal or taillight. They must really like that paperwork.

    Or, this case indicates that they get their quotas registered before the cases go to a judge. I wonder what the prize is.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    It's these little pieces of paper.

    You can tell them apart from normal paper cuz they're green and rectangular, see.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    No, that's the flag of the Green/Rectangular Paper faith.

  • Trollificus||

    There's also the chance, which need not be pursued aggressively, that someone pulled over for touching the lane designation line will have reason to trade some form of "non-monetary compensation". This transforms the DRE acronym from "Drug Recognition Expert" to "Dicks Ready to Eat".

  • Bra Ket||

    This is a dude named "Tracy Carroll".

  • thorsmjollnir||

    Clearly bullied in high school for this name, which lead to him becoming a cop. Now he's taking out that frustration on women who never paid attention to him during his formative years.

  • josh||

    Complain if you want, but at least he didn't feel her up.

  • Trollificus||

    Nor the others who had charges brought against them. But are not informed what percentage of "pulled over for failure to maintain perfect lane centering" cases resulted in "positive drug identifications" and did NOT result in arrests. "Feeling up" might be much the lesser of several alternative evils this shitheel offers.

  • cravinbob||

    The whole motivation for stopping young females for bogus traffic infractions! How many sucked cock and then were set free? I will wager the farm that his policing is centered solely on getting some pussy or head. Only a moron could attend a course to be an "expert" drug takers identifier or whatever cockamamie name they call it. Most police are sociopaths and nothing more. It is dangerous times in which we live.

  • Rockabilly||

    Why they oughta have those testing machines for caffeine and sugar. I've noticed some people driving erratically under the influence of Dunkin' Donuts Iced Macchiato and chocolate frosted donuts.

  • IceTrey||

    See if you haven't done anything wrong you have your nothing to fear....wait a minute.

  • PaulTheBeav||

    Prosecutors and juries tend to give police the benefit of the doubt when their story is different from that of the accused. This is based on the assumption that the police are unbiased, and experts. Generally speaking, it's probably a good assumption to make, but no case is general. Every case involves individuals, and individual police might neither be unbiased, nor expert. Unfortunately, defendants don't have access to information about how often a particular cop has been wrong about this sort of thing. If defendants did, it could be quite easy to discredit a cop who is frequently wrong in his judgment and observation.

  • sarcasmic||

    Generally speaking, it's probably a good assumption to make

    Um, no. No it's not. The only good assumption to make about cops is that they are liars.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Boot licking cop cock gobbler

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I hope, but do not expect, that this suit costs the local taxpayers enough to make them pull the cops up short.

  • Arcxjo||

    O.C.G.A. 43-34-22 (2010)
    43-34-22. Practicing medicine without a license; titles and abbreviations; exceptions

    (a) If any person shall hold himself or herself out to the public as being engaged in the diagnosis or treatment of disease or injuries of human beings, ... he or she shall be deemed to be practicing medicine without complying with this article and shall be deemed in violation of this article.

  • Trollificus||

    The test should be invalidated for being rigged to create "auto-validation". "Improper number of steps"?? WTF?
    Inaccurate countdown of 30-seconds test"?? In a test where "anxiety" or "nervousness" are considered positive indicators of drug use we have a pretty clear self-fulfilling predictor there.

  • jcwconsult||

    Field sobriety tests for drugs or alcohol are SO unreliable and SO subjective that they should be banned.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    And given that BAC and other chemical measures are also unable to reliably judge impairment, then there's basically no useful measure. Which means laws against intoxication are (or at least should be) unenforceable.

    That is not a popular stance to take on drunk driving. We have our work cut out for us.

  • aajax||

    "Show me the man, I will show you the crime."

  • Michael Milburn||

    No one should drive impaired, but actual impairment should be measured. I have developed a new public health app that measures actual impairment--it is called DRUID (an acronym for "DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs") available now in the Apple App Store (Android version coming soon). DRUID measures reaction time, decision making, hand-eye coordination, time estimation and balance, and then statistically integrates hundreds of data points into an overall impairment score. DRUID takes just 2 minutes.

    Our website is www.druidapp.com

    DRUID allows cannabis users (or others who drink alcohol, use prescription drugs, etc.) to self-assess their own level of impairment and (hopefully) decide against driving if they are impaired. Prior to DRUID, there was no way for an individual to accurately assess their own level of impairment. DRUID also demonstrates that it is feasible to measure impairment reliably by the roadside, not just exposure to a drug.

    DRUID was featured on NPR's All Things Considered: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/25/.....-much-weed

    After obtaining my Ph.D. at Harvard, I have been a professor of psychology at UMass/Boston for the past 40 years, specializing in research methods, measurement and statistics.

    Michael Milburn, Professor
    Department of Psychology
    UMass/Boston

  • Hank Phillips||

    Wow! A thoughtcriminal detector app... No more need to brainwash kids into ratting on their parents. But it the "impairment" is as undetectable as global warming, why not call it normalcy and leave people alone?

  • Abe Froman||

    Cops cannot be trusted. Cops lie all the time and everywhere. They lie for no reason other than that they can get away with it. They lie, lie, lie, and lie again. They lie on their arrest reports, they lie in court, they lie to get a brother cop out of a jam. They lie with abandon. They lie with aplomb. They lie with sincerity. It's the first lesson in police academy: "How to lie sincerely." This is the reason you never, never trust a cop. Every word out of their mouths is a lie. And if they don't like being called a bunch of scum-bag liars, let's see them call out their fellows when they know they're lying.

    That will never happen. Why? Because cops have NO integrity, NO honor, NO ethics, NO morals. Well, Perhaps they do have a bit of honor, that which is referred to as "honor among thieves".
    After all, even the disreputable and unethical adhere to certain moral codes among themselves. Cops also have their code: 1) Never tell the truth about a fellow cop. 2) Take your cut and keep your mouth shut.

  • leedsphone||

    Lie when the truth sounds better

  • Finrod||

    I would not be unhappy if Officer Tracy Carroll found himself falling into the chute of a running woodchipper.

  • Hank Phillips||

    If politicians ordered the pig to give Finrod a foot massage, that would happen. Cops are the unintelligent thugs to whom politicians assign the task of robbing and murdering residents. Winnowing out looter politicians is as easy as voting libertarian. Looter party spoiler votes got us under the thumbs of the current crop of mixed-economy statists. That by itself should give a sense of how important these second-derivative votes are in changing jurisprudence.

  • Pyrrho21C||

    Reminds me of the 'experts' with Ph.D.s in psychology who could just look at immigrants like my bohunk grandparents and tell that they had subnormal intelligence. And the 'settled science' of the day that I.Q. is almost entirely heritable explains why my B.A. with honors from UW-Madison, MBA from Chicago, and Mensa membership don't have anything to do with my essential idiocy.

  • leedsphone||

    So this article is ststeing that any cop for any reason can stop you driving down the road, arrest you, toss you in jail, sieze your property, have your auto towed, and basically change your life forever, all because they didnt get laid thd night before, and thats ok. The 2nd ammemdant was / is there so we the people can defend ourselves against our own tryant goverment, if this isnt proof that the goverment has run amuk i guess i will have to do massive more amounts dope so i can beleive i have freedom and live in a free society. You arent supposed to fear your governent, it should be more in fear of you. If it is trully for the people and by the people and we do nothing to change then we get what we deserve!

  • leedsphone||

    All officers involved and there supervisors should be given at least 1 day off without pay and have to spend the equal amount of time in jail, not there local jail but one outside of a 200 mile radius of where they patrol and repay all the arrested peoples money at 100 dollars for every dollar they spent or lost because of the bogus arrest. You do that and the cops would start changing there ways.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Easier to vote libertarian. Politicians notice that in a big hurry.

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