In all the years our Charleston DUI lawyers have read officers’ reports and heard their courtroom testimony, we have NEVER come across a situation where the officer didn’t observe the follow three so-called “objective symptoms” of intoxication: (1) blood-shot eyes; (2) slurred speech; and (3) strong odor of alcohol. After all, without these “objective symptoms,” the officer wouldn’t have a reason to investigate a driver for DUI. But are these “symptoms” really objective indicators of intoxication?
Could blood-shot eyes really be a sign of intoxication? Considering how many other explanations there are for that condition, the answer is probably not. Drivers have blood-shot eyes for all sorts of reasons such eye irritation from contacts, viewing oncoming traffic headlights at night, allergies, dry eyes, staring at a computer screen for long periods, exposure to cigarette smoke, lack of sleep, or any eye condition.
Like blood-shot eyes, there are many other reasons for slurred speech besides intoxication. Slurred speech can be caused by dry mouth, anxiety, a stroke, speech impediments, and many medical conditions such as dysarthria.
Odor of Alcohol
For starters, its important to remember that it is not illegal to have a drink and drive in South Carolina. It is only illegal to be intoxicated while driving. So, can a police officer tell how much you’ve had to drink based on how your breath smells? The answer is no. If you think about it, it makes little sense for an officer to claim that he or she detected the “strong” odor of alcohol when: (1) whether you had one drink or several drinks, your breath smells like alcohol either way; and (2) those drinks that have the least amount of alcohol content (such as beer or wine) have a stronger odor than those drinks that have a higher alcohol content (such as vodka or gin). Therefore, it is not surprising that a 1999 study, “Police Officers’ Detection of Breath Odors From Alcohol Ingestion,” found that experienced officers could neither identify which type of alcohol subjects drank based on smell nor estimate the subject’s BAC levels (how much they drank) based on smell.
Not Truly Symptoms of Intoxication
In the end, it always sounds bad when officers testify before juries regarding blood-shot eyes, slurred speech, and the odor of alcohol. However, through cross-examination, an experienced DUI attorney can educate jurors that these “objective symptoms” of intoxication are neither objective nor actual symptoms of DUI.