New Study: Force & Struggle Don’t Affect Sobriety Test Results

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A new study reported recently at an international emergency medical conference concludes that a variety of control measures, including Tasing and physical restraint, will not affect a suspect’s ability to accurately perform a standardized field sobriety test.

The issue arose from litigation in New York State involving a suspected drunk driver who ran from police after his vehicle was stopped. To bring him under control after a foot pursuit, the suspect was Tased for six seconds. Thirty minutes later, he flunked a standardized field sobriety test [SFST].

In court, his defense attorney argued that the chase and the exposure to a conducted electrical weapon [CEW] “interfered with his neurocognitive abilities,” causing him to flub the test.

A team of researchers from Minnesota and California, led by Dr. Jeffrey D. Ho, decided to explore that possibility. Ho, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, is the medical director for TASER International, Inc., is credentialed as a deputy sheriff in Meeker County (MN), and is widely recognized as a leading authority on less-lethal weaponry and human physiology.

From a law enforcement training course, the researchers selected 57 volunteers, about 90% of them male and ranging in age from 19 to 55. None had used alcohol or illicit drugs within eight hours of the testing and were not sleep deprived.

All were initially given a baseline SFST that included horizontal gaze nystagmus evaluation, walk-and-turn exercises, and a one-legged stand. Three of the volunteers received one-point deductions for stepping off the line during the walk-and-turn components.

Then each participant was randomly subjected to one of five “force or resistance scenarios.” They either: struggled “vigorously” against a padded instructor “by any means possible” for 45 seconds; sprinted 100 yards on a course that included a slalom and a crawl; were exposed to 10% OC spray to the face and neck; hid from a police K9, experienced a bite when found, and resisted the dog for 15 seconds; or received a TASER X26 broad-spread probe deployment to the back for five seconds.

After a 15 minute “recovery” period, the subjects were given the SFST again. “There was no worsening of SFST performance in any of the groups,” the researchers found. Technically, a slight improvement was noted: “No subjects received point deductions” during the post-stressor testing, in contrast to the three deductions made during the baseline run-through.

Conclusion: Physical resistance and use of force, including exposure to a CEW broad-spread probe deployment to major muscle groups, “do not appear to impair a person’s neurocognitive ability as evaluated by SFSTs,” the team reports.

The study was described in full last month in a presentation at the annual Mediterranean Emergency Medicine Congress in Marseille, France.

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