Police Documentation of Drunk Driving Arrests: Jury Verdicts and Guilty Pleas as a Function of Quantity and Quality of Evidence

Document Type



Psychology (CMC), Behavioral and Organizational Sciences (CGU)

Publication Date



Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This archival study examined the court records and relevant police reports for 617 drunk-driving cases drawn from the greater metropolitan areas of Boston, Denver, and Los Angeles. Cases were selected to include roughly equal proportions of guilty pleas, guilty verdicts, and not-guilty verdicts. Objective coding of the arrest reports revealed a fairly cohesive pattern of evidence relating blood-alcohol readings to driving behavior before the stop, general behavior after the stop, and performance on the field sobriety tests. There were several differences in detection and arrest procedures among the three metropolitan areas, and there was scattered evidence that the configuration of BAC limits and per se laws of the states influenced the weighting of blood-alcohol evidence in determining case outcomes. In general, case dispositions reflected a rational pattern of decisionmaking, in which drunk-driving convictions were systematically influenced by the quantity and quality of evidence for guilt.

Rights Information

© 1990 Elsevier Ltd.