San Diego Using Mouth Swabs to Determine Drugged Drivers

Roadside Swabs Test for Cocaine, Marijuana, and Other Drugs

Mouth swabs check for DUI
Using a mouth swab can check for the presence of drugs for a DUI arrest.

With the increased number of states legalizing marijuana use, experts have been speculating that law enforcement will soon begin using some form of roadside test to determine if a driver is impaired from using drugs. This speculation came to fruition in San Diego, California where law enforcement officers have begun using oral swabs to detect for the presence of drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, amphetamine, methamphetamine, opiates, methadone, and benzodiazepines.

While these tests can indicate that a drug is present, they do not indicate the quantity of the drug that may be present in someone’s system. This could cause an issue for law enforcement under California state law considering that an individual can only be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) unless he or she is considered “under the influence,” meaning that the presence of the substance is impairing the individual’s physical or mental ability to a degree that makes it difficult or impossible to operate a vehicle safely.

How the Prosecutor Can Prove it

Considering the swab tests only indicate the presence of a substance, it would still be up to the prosecutor to prove the driver was “under the influence.” This is most often accomplished through the testimony of law enforcement officers who were involved in the traffic stop or the arrest. The testimony of these officers often includes information about how the accused was driving before the traffic stop and any signs of intoxication during the traffic stop or the arrest.

Using the Dräger 5000

The city of San Diego began using the roadside oral swab test after meeting with officials from the state of Colorado, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana in 2014. Under the outlined protocol, law enforcement officers only use the test, which is called Dräger 5000, if they suspect the driver is under the influence of a drug. Before this point, law enforcement officers must also have probable cause to incite the traffic stop in the first place.

Like a Preliminary Screening Alcohol test (PSA), the oral swab test is optional. Driving Under the Influence attorneys strongly suggest that drivers never voluntarily submit to these oral tests and give law enforcement more evidence than they need. After the individual has been arrested, he or she will likely need to submit to a chemical test if law enforcement officers suspect the individual was under the influence of drugs. Often, this chemical test takes the form of a blood test, which is a mandatory test.

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