Original Voice

Law Enforcement Perspective: Documenting Impairment in Cases Other Than DUI

By Kyle Clark

The biggest part of a law enforcement officer’s job is the protection of life and property of the people. But a less prominent, yet critical element of law enforcement that has a substantial impact on the adjudication of a case is the documentation process.

Prosecutors, judges, and probation officers all utilize and depend on the information contained in the law enforcement reports. A well-written report oftentimes provides sufficient information so that further testimony from the law enforcement officer is unnecessary. Prosecutors routinely base plea offers, and judges often base sentencing decisions, in whole or part, upon the evidence listed in an officer’s report. Facts, observations, and even a suspect’s demeanor and specific actions can all be essential for officials in multiple phases of the justice system.

Many crimes committed today are committed by suspects who have substance misuse issues or are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, 36 percent of those under correctional supervision were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their offense. Estimates indicate 75 percent were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. Besides the obvious crimes such as public intoxication and driving while impaired (DWI), crimes such as battery, robbery, burglary, and even shoplifting are often committed by subjects under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These offenders’ substance misuse issues can be a factor in their actions and may increase the likelihood of recidivism and the commission of additional crimes. Thus, they should be addressed through appropriate court sentencing and follow-up court supervision.

It is vital that law enforcement officers document any evidence of alcohol or drug use in their probable cause affidavits or their offense incident reports in order to provide the courts with a complete picture of the problem. If alcohol or drug misuse is a contributing factor in a burglary case, addressing this is an important component in trying to prevent the offender from committing future crimes. Offenders may be able to obtain appropriate treatment services while incarcerated or upon release. Additionally, probation employees can (and should) monitor the alcohol or drug use of these subjects to ensure that the treatment is working and that the offenders are in compliance with court orders. Of course, none of this happens if the court isn’t aware that a problem exists.

Although report writing may be the least glamorous aspect of law enforcement duties, documenting alcohol and/or drug use by suspects can potentially prevent future crimes. Programs and tools are available today to help mitigate the impact of drug and alcohol misuse on the future behavior of offenders. And when crimes are reduced, and additional requirements are placed on suspects undergoing rehabilitation,

Kyle Clark works with the Institute of Police Technology and Management (IPTM) at the University of North Florida. He is the Florida state Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program Coordinator and a nationally known expert on impaired driving.