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Slurred Speech-What Does it Really Tell us?

Posted Friday, October 4, 2013 by Andrew Charles Huff

As a criminal defense attorney who deals with folks accused of driving impaired, I routinely work with people who exhibit all kinds of different “signs” or clues that police officers are trained to look for in a DUI investigation. Common sense supported by scientific research tells us that when people have consumed enough alcohol to the point of being “impaired” by it, the human body can let us know in different ways. These signs include balance problems, coordination issues, confusion, becoming over emotional, just to make a few.

One clue that is well-known among most people and one we typically think about in a DUI context is a person slurring their speech. Slurred speech is a primary clue police officers are trained to look for in identifying those who have drank too much. The argument is too much alcohol can effect your ability to properly form words in a clear and coherent manner. In other words, slurred speech.

But what does slurred speech really tell us about whether someone is impaired by alcohol? Does a person who is speaking differently after being stopped by a police officer truly exhibiting a clue that suggests impairment? In all honesty, there is little evidence that this is symptomatic of intoxication, in large part because there are many other causes of speech issues. For example, consider the situation a person finds themselves in when stopped by a police officer, especially when they have consumed even a small amount of alcohol and are not impaired. Speech problems are largely attributed to stress, fear and just plain nerves, three common feelings experienced when in a DUI investigation. No matter how polite and friendly an officer might be, being stopped and investigated can be frightening. And a person reacts to fear in much the same way of being impaired…speech problems is one commonality. Think of how many times you have become tongue-tied or had a hard time getting your words out when in a scary or stressful situation.

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