Katelyn Ebner was on her way home from work when she was pulled over by a police officer for allegedly crossing the center line. She had never been pulled over before, and was confident that the incident would be a misunderstanding.
But Officer Tracy Carroll of the Cobb County Police in Georgia seemed intent on arresting Ebner for a DUI.
“You’re showing me indicators that you have smoked marijuana,” Carroll said during the 30-minute traffic stop and 20-minute field sobriety test. Ebner tried to explain that she was tired after her shift as a waitress, and had a documented history of anemia, but had absolutely no alcohol or marijuana in her system. She even offered to take a drug test, but Carroll was determined to make the arrest.
“You’re going to jail, ma’am,” Carroll said. “I don’t have a magical drug test that I can give you right now.”
This comment should be enough to end the traffic stop, since there is no test for determining cannabis intoxication that can be conducted during a traffic stop. But law enforcement hasn’t let science stop them from developing their own methods. The Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) is a questionable certification program that uses typical field sobriety tests to determine intoxication. Since it relies on observation, officers are left to judge for themselves, which creates problems later in court.
As a result of Officer Carroll’s conjecture, Ebner lost her alcohol servers permit needed at her job. Although her blood and urine tests came back negative and led to the charges being dropped, Ebner spent thousands of dollars fighting the bogus charges. Officer Carroll and his DRE certification led to two other DUI arrests in 2016. Charges for both cases were dropped after testing confirmed the drivers were sober. “They’re ruining people’s lives,” Ebner said.
Flaws in the DRE system can have a detrimental effect in court, according to criminal defense attorney William Head. “The case law around the country says if a person has had this additional training, they’re allowed to get up [on the stand] and tell the jury that they have special training and can detect things that even a doctor can’t detect,” he said, adding that Carroll did not follow procedure in Ebner’s arrest. “He went ahead and arrested her anyway on guesswork ― pure guesswork.”
Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice agrees that questionable arrests and time spent in jail shouldn’t be taken lightly, and should be done using procedures based on verifiable facts. “People die, they commit suicide, they lose their jobs ― there are consequences to these things,” said O’Donnell.
According to a spokesperson for the police department, arrest procedures are being reviewed. But arresting people for marijuana intoxication appears to be a priority for Cobb County Police, even with no viable testing method in place. “As a state-certified and nationally accredited law enforcement agency, we are very concerned about [DUI] cases outside of alcohol that appear to be on the increase in our local jurisdictions, state and nationally,” said Sergeant Dana Pierce. “We will strive to continue to protect our community from people who choose to drive under the influence.”