“Slurred Speech”

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on August 6th, 2008

As with the odor of alcohol on the breath, few police reports will fail to include an observation by the arresting officer that the arrestee exhibited “slurred speech”. (See my earlier post, “Alcohol on the Breath: Evidence of DUI?”).  The officer fully expects to hear slurred speech in a person he suspects is intoxicated, particularly after smelling alcohol on the breath, and it is a psychological fact that we tend to “hear” what we expect to hear. And hearing it supplies the officer 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 police investigation would be expected to engender.  Fatigue is another well-known cause.

Skeptical?  Consider the following excerpt from Discover magazine (Saunders, “News of Science, Medicine and Technology: Straight Talk”, 21(1) Discover (Oct. 2000).

Bartenders, police officers and hospital workers routinely identify drunks by their slurred speech. Several investigative groups judged the captain of the Exxon Valdez oil 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.

  • koivisto

    Unfortunately just the smell of what an officer deems alcohol starts the investigation where all roads lead to arrest in most cases. The evidence is made to fit the preconceived thoughts. Most are pulled over for a minor or contrived reason, usually late night or early morning, so the kind officer can make sure your not under the influence. Any smell or nervousness, or speech issues and you are put under the spotlight. My wife works nights and has been pulled over many times coming home, for weaving or driving too slow. She is asked to recite the alphabet or tell the kind officer where she was and where she is going. This issue is out of control.

  • standup

    I hear you. I manage a restaurant,and often come home late at night. I get pulled over all the time for the stupidest,most rediculous reasons (All legit I found out) that you can imagine.

  • RichardAlan

    The police here in Los Angeles tried this routine on me, my police report was classic; Police said the cookie cutter usual; “blood shot watery eyes, alcohol smell, slurred speech, unsteady gate”, all this and my case was dismissed of all “alcohol related” charges,

    Hey that’s great I have no DUI on my record, but the fact is the DMV thinks with out due process that drugs or alcohol were involved, and because I exercised my 4th and 4th Amendment rights during this traffic stop, (DMV calls it a refusal) I lose my hearing, so I my license, because the officer said so according to the DMV.

    The most intriguing part is not one person has asked me if I was really drinking? Not my attorney, not the D.A. not even the Hearing officer at the DMV. So it’s my word against the officer, I was not drinking alcohol, I was drinking water…. and one more concern is, NOT one member of MADD was in the court room of my trial…!

    I rest my case……!

    I’m a Teamster, I’m an American Patriot, and a great American citizen with no criminal history. I will never submit my body, fluids, or DNA to the United States Government. I would rather fricken die, for the US Constitution and the men and women who’ve served and died for our Country in support of the United States Constitution and our freedom.

    I’m A patriot and I’m protecting myself from this Government… in doing so I’m losing over $100,000 in income for driving a vehicle on a road in front of an officer with a preconceived agenda supported by MADD.

    I’ll be sending an invoice to MADD, “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, for my current loss of $45,000 , $14,000 for legal fees, $20,000 for loss of income from employment, beginning April 3, of 2008, $11,000 for loss of pension 401k for one years loss of employment, and an additional $80,000 for the remaining year going forward to April of 2009 for future loss of employment.

    For a total of $125,000.

    I have not assessed a fine for my loss caused by the tyranny of MADDs outrageous DUI agenda.

  • RichardAlan

    I’m very, very angry with our Government and the way they treat honest Americans… I have not been able to work since April 3 2008….

    Losing $3,000 a week,,,, $12,000 a month and the jobs keep passing me by. I’m very, very angered by this,

    $125,000 traffic ticket….?? You’ve got to be f-ing kidding me. This is what it’s costing me… my family is devastated.

    I don’t know who to tell anymore I’m a victim of MADD’s Agenda………..