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The Arresting Officer

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The suspect's race is a key distinguishing characteristic in alcohol-related cases. The officers surveyed — the overwhelming majority of whom were white — reported releasing significantly more non-white suspects than they arrested. The data do not suggest that this reflects a greater tendency to exercise discretion when dealing with non-white drivers. Rather, the officers seem more willing to initiate an investigation when the suspect is not of their own race.

Suspect's age is another distinguishing characteristic of these cases, and patrolmen reported releasing significantly more young suspects than they arrested. This appears to stem from two distinct causes. First, young officers exhibit more sympathy for young suspects, i.e., seem less disposed to arrest a driver of their own age group. Second, older officers seem more willing to stop young suspects, i.e., are more likely to conduct an investigation when the driver is young, even if the evidence of alcohol-related violation is not clear.

Suspect's sex also plays a role in the arrest/no arrest decision. Patrolmen seem more reluctant to arrest a woman for alcohol-related violations, largely because processing of a female arrestee is generally more complex and time consuming.

In a fascinating article entitled Psychology, Public Policy, and the Evidence for Alcohol Intoxication, American Psychologist 1070 (Oct. 1983), James W. Langenbrucher and Peter E. Nathan reported a series of experiments conducted at Rutgers University's Alcohol Behavior Research Laboratory to test the ability of social drinkers, bartenders, and police officers to estimate the sobriety of individuals. The results should be of considerable interest to any attorney representing a client charged with driving under the influence of alcohol — and may be admissible in evidence during direct or cross-examination of expert witnesses. The researchers addressed the specific issue of whether nonmedical observers can reliably judge an individual's level of intoxication.