Assessment of Alcohol Intoxication in DWI, DUI, and other Legal Cases

The accurate identification of intoxication is essential in many civil and criminal law cases. Was the defendant actually intoxicated when he came to pick up his children? Was the defendant already drunk when she was served alcohol in the the bar? Was the plaintiff impaired by alcohol when he signed the contract?

False conviction and the miscarriage of justice can easily occur if witnesses inaccurately testify as to whether or not a defendant or a plaintiff was intoxicated and, if so, the degree of impairment.

Unfortunately, scientific research continues to report that observers, even law enforcement officers trained to do so, have very limited and unreliable ability to assess the level of intoxication of strangers. The problem is especially pronounced in the identification of persons with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below 0.10.

Contributing to the problem are the many sources of behavioral variability among persons who drink alcohol. Differences in behavior between casual drinkers and alcoholics and others who have developed high tolerance of alcohol are a major source of perceptual error. For some of the other sources of error see the pages listed below.

Problems associated with the validity of eye-witness testimony in general is well known. This is exacerbated by the relative inability of observes to make accurate judgments about alcohol intoxication.

Attorneys, especially defense attorneys, need to be aware of the serious problems involved in the innaccurate perceptions and reports of alleged alcohol intoxication, even by police and other law enforcement officers based on observation. This includes conclusions based on administering Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) promoted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Studies supporting the reliability and validity of SFSTs are seriously flawed and inadequate

 

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