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Sobriety Tests: Expert Testimony Not Necessary

Some people just slur when they talk, sway when the walk or drive erratically without the benefit of alcohol. But rarely are all three behaviors present in a single motorist at the same time unless they're three sheets to the wind. Even if alcohol is not found, those are sure signs of some kind of impairment, right?

That's what a reasonable person might conclude from observing the behavior of one Billy L. Hires, who appealed his ninth DUI conviction on grounds that prosecutors didn't have sufficient evidence.

But an appellate decision handed down by the Fourth District of Illinois (PDF, People v. Hires) rules that police are not required to seek expert testimony to validate evidence gathered from a field sobriety test. Usually a breathalyzer test clears everything up, but the defendant in this case refused it.

Forget for a moment that this is Hires' ninth DUI conviction, on a revoked licensed of course, which will put him in the slammer for 24 years.

Other than the standard sentence enhancements that come with repeat offenses, none of that information is admissible in the determination of his intoxication. In other words, the prosecutor can't say, "But your honor, he must have been drunk. Just look at his record." Guilt by assumption just doesn't cut it, for good reason.

At issue here was whether or not the results of the police-administered field sobriety test provide sufficient evidence for his conviction in the absence of "expert assistance" in validating those results. Here's the issue and the judge's conclusion, as written by the judge, in plain English:

"Defendant appeals, arguing that the State failed to
prove him guilty of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. We disagree
and affirm."

When a judge says the court "affirms," it means the lower court's ruling stands. Based on the notion that any reasonable person would have concluded that he was in fact drunk or at least impaired, it means Mr. Hires is jail-bound.

So even if one refuses a breathalyzer test, results from the field sobriety test may be all Illinois police officers need.