top of page

Cedar Rapids OWI Lawyer: What is the DRE preliminary examination and first pulse in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa OWI (DUI) Investigation?

by David A. Cmelik Law PLC


​In DRE phase three of the twelve step protocol, officers with DRE training conduct a so-called “preliminary examination” and record a “first pulse.” Without medical training, they are supposed to to determine whether the subject is “suffering from an injury or other condition unrelated to drugs.” They take an un-Mirandized inventory of the test subject’s health and “recent ingestion of food, alcohol, and drugs, including prescribed medications.” Note that a prescription drug defense is not applicable as a complete defense to an OWI prosecution in the State of Iowa if there is any alcohol present.

Prosecutor's Research Institute: Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (available at


The DRE officer then “observes the subject’s attitude, coordination, speech, breath, and face.”


Following these observations is where the DRE may exceed his or her medical training. The DRE then determines whether the test subject’s pupils are symmetrically sized, ruling in or out a neurological disorder, disease, or brain injury.


At this point, the officer may conduct a horizontal gaze nystagmus and take the subject’s pulse. According to training materials, the DRE will take the test subject’s pulse a total of three times checking for “nervousness” and further ruling out a medical condition.


Hopefully the DRE is medically informed enough to accurately rule out a medical condition because a false negative could be deadly: “If the DRE believes that the subject’s condition is drug related, the evaluation continues.”


Apparently conscious that officers will be scrutinized for a lack of medical credentials, the prosecutor’s manual protests too much:


“DREs assess their subjects’vital signs using the same instruments and methods doctors have used for decades: thermometers, sphygmomanometers, and stethoscopes. Although defense attorneys claim that DREs are not qualified to conduct vital sign examinations, the tests are easy to conduct and the data is simple to interpret.”


Perhaps recognizing that law enforcement has exceeded the scope of its expertise by using equipment that doctors have used exclusively for decades, they protest loudly that the equipment is nevertheless still easy to use-- missing the point of an independent medical judgment.


If you or a loved one has been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated, or, impaired, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889 for a free initial consultation and begin charting your course back to life before legal crisis. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

Is the so-called drug recognition expert, or, DRE, exceeding his or her medical expertise by using specialized medical equipment and making medical judgments that prosecutors and law enforcement acknowledge have heretofore been exclusively reserved to the medical profession? Employing thermometers, sphygmomanometers, and stethoscopes, their answer is merely that using this equipment is "easy." If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, ​contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889.

bottom of page