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“Slurred Speech”: Evidence of Intoxication?

As with the odor of alcohol on the breath, few DUI police reports will fail to include an observation by the arresting officer that the drunk driving suspect  exhibited “slurred speech”.  It is a standard criteria for detecting alcohol impairment.  The officer fully expects to hear slurred speech in a person he suspects is under the influence, particularly after smelling alcohol on the breath, and we tend to “hear” what we expect to hear. And hearing it supplies the officer in a DUI investigation with corroboration of his suspicions. Even assuming the honesty of the officer that the defendant?s speech was slurred, there is little evidence that this is symptomatic of intoxication.

Impairment of speech is, for example, a common — and sober — reaction to the stress, fear and nervousness that a drunk driving investigation would be expected to engender; fatigue is another well-known cause.

Skeptical? Consider the following excerpt from Discover magazine:

Bartenders, police officers and hospital workers routinely identify drunks by their slurred speech. Several investigative groups judged the captain of the Exxon Valdezoil tanker to be intoxicated based solely on the sound of his voice in his radio transmissions. But a team led by Harry Holien, a phonetician at the University of Florida, has found that even self-proclaimed experts are pretty bad at estimating people?s alcohol levels by the way they talk.

Hollien asked clinicians who treat chemical dependency, along with a group of everyday people, to listen to recordings made by volunteers when they were sober, then mildly intoxicated, legally impaired, and finally, completely smashed. Listeners consistently overestimated the drunkeness of mildly intoxicated subjects. Conversely, they underestimated the alcohol levels of those who were most inebriated. Professionals were little better at perceiving the truth than the ordinary Joes….

He thinks his research could encourage police to be more wary of making snap judgments: Mild drinkers might come under needless suspicion.

Saunders, “News of Science, Medicine and Technology: Straight Talk”, 21(1) Discover (Oct. 2000).

About Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor is one of the most respected DUI defense attorneys in the country. With over 43 years experience in DUI defense, he has lectured to attorneys at over 200 seminars in 41 states. An original founder and former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Mr. Taylor's book "Drunk Driving Defense" has been the best-selling textbook on the subject for 31 years and is now in its 7th edition. He is today one of only 5 DUI attorneys in California who is Board-certified as a DUI defense specialist. A former Marine and graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1966) and the UCLA School of Law (1969), Lawrence Eric Taylor served as deputy public defender and deputy district attorney in Los Angeles before entering private practice. He was the trial judge's legal advisor in People vs Charles Manson, was Supreme Court counsel in the Onion Field murder case and was retained by the Attorney General of Montana as an independent Special Prosecutor to conduct a one-year grand jury probe of governmental corruption. Turning to teaching, Mr. Taylor served on the faculty of Gonzaga University School of Law, where he was voted Professor of the Year, was invited to be Visiting Professor at Pepperdine University Law School, and was finally appointed Fulbright Professor of Law at Osaka University in Japan. Mr. Taylor continues to limit the practice of his 5-attorney Southern California law firm to DUI defense exclusively. With offices in Long Beach, Irvine, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Riverside and Carlsbad, Mr. Taylor and his firm of DUI defense attorneys may be reached through their website at www.duicentral.com or by telephone at (800) 777-3349.

If you would like to contact the author, please visit: http://www.duicentral.com/


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