Monthly Archives: June 2013
I've posted in the past about the latest fad with police departments: forceful extraction of blood from citizens suspected of drunk driving. See, for example, Taking Blood By Force, Forced Blood Draws by Cops Spreading, Blood Draws in the Back Seat by the Dashboard Light, DUI Suspect Resisting Forced Blood Draw Is Tasered, Dies, Forced Blood Draws: Citizen Backlash? and, in the case of forced urine extraction, Catheter Forced Up Penis After DUI Arrest.
Talking about this violent but growing practice in the abstract is one thing — but seeing it in action is quite another. Take a look at this video from yesterday's Fox TV News in Atlanta : "I-Team Forced Blood Draws". (Of interest are the comments from the news broadcasters at the end of the newscast, expressing surprise that such practices were legal.)
Proponents of the so-called “standardized” field sobriety tests (SFSTs) have long pointed to federally-funded field studies which indicate a high correlation between performance on the tests and actual blood alcohol concentrations (BAC).
Subsequent studies, however, have called those conclusions into question.
Originally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) paid a private group, the Southern California Research Institute, to conduct studies to find which among the various field sobriety tests used by police were most effective and to develop a standardized 3-test battery. SCRI subsequently reported to NHTSA that a battery of walk-and-turn, one-leg-stand and nystagmus provided a strong correlation with breath test results.
Confronted with questions about those conclusions, NHTSA later commissioned the same researcher who had conducted the original studies, Marcelline Burns, to corroborate the accuracy of her own tests of the SFSTs – rather than commission an independent source.
Burns accompanied a small number of San Diego officers conducting actual DUI investigations in the field. After administering the SFSTs, the officers were asked to guess whether suspects had blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) over or under .08%. Burns reported a 91% correlation between SFSTs and BAC over-under estimates, thereby validating the battery of tests she had helped create.
A subsequent scientific article challenged Burns’ corroboration of her own research. In Hlastala, Polissar and Oberman, “Statistical Evaluation of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests”, 50(3) Journal of Forensic Sciences 1 (May 2005), the raw data used in the validation study were obtained from NHTSA through the Freedom of Information Act. The methodology used was then reviewed and the data subjected to statistical analysis.
The methodology was found to be seriously flawed in a number of respects. For one thing, many of the suspects had very high BACs, making estimates of whether a suspect was over .08% obvious regardless of SFST performance. For another, there was no attempt to isolate the influence of SFST performance from other factors: officers estimated BACs after the field sobriety tests, but they also took into account earlier observations, such as erratic driving, slurred speech, odor of alcohol, flushed face, admissions as to amount of alcohol consumed, etc.
The most glaring defect in Burns’ corroborative study was that “all police officers participating in the study were equipped with NHTSA-approved portable breath testing devices”. In other words, the San Diego officers already had the results of portable breath tests before they were asked to estimate the BACs later obtained at the station!
After reviewing the flawed methodology, the raw data was then statistically analyzed. The conclusions:
If we consider three ranges of MBAC [measured blood alcohol content], 0.00% to 0.04%, 0.04% to 0.08%, and 0.08% to 0.12%, the officers’ EBAC [estimated blood alcohol content] overestimated the MBAC 76%, 67% and 48% of the time, and underestimated it 14%, 26% and 28% of the time.
In other words, officers relying upon field sobriety tests were far more likely to overestimate BACs than underestimate — particularly with those suspects having very low BACs.
(T)he utility of the SFST depends very much on how intoxicated an individual is. Accuracy (and specificity) are low when individuals are close to 0.08% MBAC, but if the individuals are quite intoxicated, such as above 0.12%, then accuracy is high.
In borderline cases involving persons at or under the legal limit, then, officers were very poor at estimating blood-alcohol levels based upon SFSTs. And it is these cases, of course, that are critical. Suspects with high BACs are relatively easy to single out without the help of field tests; it is for the closer cases, particularly those who are innocent (below .08%), that the SFSTs are designed. And it is with these very cases that the tests apparently fail.
Put another way, accuracy in using field sobriety tests is high when they are not needed — and low when they are.
For another independent study conducted by Professor Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University, in which he found field sobriety tests to be worthless, see Are Field Sobriety Tests Designed for Failure?.
Following up on my post two days ago, another example of how not to deal with a possible DUI…
Woman Locked in Car Made Up Beverly Kidnapping Story to Avoid DUI, Police Say
Beverly, MA. June 19 – A Beverly woman was arrested earlier this week after lying to police about being kidnapped in an attempt to avoid being arrested for drinking and driving.
Maria Brayfield, 24, was found locked in the back of her car at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, June 17, just before exit 17 on the northbound side of Route 128 in Wenham by two passing motorists who had stopped to provide assistance to what they believed to be an accident.
Police said the motorists heard a woman and smashed the rear glass in the vehicle hatch to free her.
Brayfield told police that two masked men entered her Beverly apartment and forcibly abducted her. She said they ordered her to drive her car, and eventually pulled to the side of Route 128.
However, Beverly Police later reported that the investigation at the scene did not coincide with details of Brayfield’s account.
“Through investigation and interviews with the Criminal Investigations Division, it was determined that the story was made up,” said Officer Mike Boccuzzi of the Beverly Police Department.
Boccuzzi added that Brayfield later told Beverly police detectives when questioned that she was intoxicated and fearful of being arrested, hence the reason why she created the false story of the kidnapping.
Brafyield was charged on Monday with filing a false police report, according to Boccuzzi. Filing a false report is a misdemeanor crime that carries a court appearance.
Now, if she'd just kept her mouth shut….
In the what-not-to-do-if-you're-stopped-for-a-DUI department:
DUI Suspect Gave Officer Miller Lite When Asked for License
Seattle, WA. June 17 — A drunken man who was stopped by police handed the officer a Miller Lite when asked for his license, police said.
Shortly before 9 p.m. June 8, police were called about a DUI suspect near the 7-Eleven at 18012 West Valley Highway in Kent. A caller said the driver was erratic as he pulled into the parking lot, and police said three people watched Medina urinating next to his blue Chevrolet car.
"Upon arrival I observed a subject matching the description exit the store holding a plastic sack that contained a can of Miller (Lite)," Detective Matt Lorette wrote in a probable cause document. "The subject denied driving the vehicle and was having difficulty walking."
Medina denied driving the Chevy and tried to walk away, though he had trouble doing so.
"I asked him for his driver's license and he handed me the can of Miller Lite," Lorette wrote.
Lorette eventually gave his identification card, and once he was put in handcuffs police said he was upset.
"Omar became combative and said he was an assassin for the US Government," Lorette wrote. "While at the jail I advised him of his rights which he said he did not understand (and) said he did not respect my authority/organization."
Police said Medina then refused to take a breath test and repeated his earlier statements about being a killer…
This would not be my recommended approach to a DUI investigation…
Albert Einstein once famously said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again…and expecting different results".
Contrary to the deceptive statistics publicized by MADD (see "A Closer Look at DUI Fatality Statistics"), the number of deaths caused by drunk driving has not decreased significantly with the imposition of increasingly harsh penalties. And so new laws are passed further lowering legal limits and raising penalties…and the next year even more Draconian laws….ad infinitum.
The simple fact is that most DUI-caused deaths are caused by a relatively small group of "problem drinkers". These individuals are typically characterized by recidivism (repeat offenses), unusually high blood-alcohol levels — and alcoholism. And alcoholics are simply not deterred by criminal sanctions, any more than drug addicts are. By now, most experts recognize that alcoholism is a disease, not a choice. And you don't treat a disease with incarceration. If you throw an alcoholic in jail for six months, on the day he walks out he will likely go to the first bar he finds and resume drinking. What has been accomplished?
We recognize incapacity due to disease for such crimes as murder: the plea/verdict is "not guilty by reason of insanity". The defendant is not simply set free, but is hospitalized for treatment of the disease. Why not treatment for drunk drivers who suffer from the disease of alcoholism?
Would you prefer to have a chronic drunk driver off the roads for a few months — or treated for his addiction?