His Frustrations Led Him to Help Develop a Standardized Field Sobriety Test : Sgt. Studdard: A Fight Against Drunk Drivers

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Sgt. Richard Studdard remembers how angry he was in 1971 when the doctor in a local hospital emergency room declined to offer an opinion on whether the handcuffed driver Studdard brought in was under the influence of some drug.

The breath analysis machine had failed to register any alcohol, but motorcycle Officer Studdard knew the man was high on something. He was, after all, sliding off the chair to the floor.

The doctor, according to Studdard, just shrugged and remarked that he would not get paid for going to court. At that moment, a frustrated Studdard decided to make himself an expert in recognizing the effects of alcohol and drugs so that he could get more lethal drivers off the streets.

Helping Train Officers

Although many judges still point out that policemen are not doctors, Studdard has been instrumental in developing a standardized set of roadside sobriety tests and is helping train police officers across the nation to become more effective witnesses in drunk-driving cases.

What drove the stern-eyed, broad-shouldered Studdard to his crusade, he said, was seeing so many families devastated by drunk drivers while he was a motorcycle officer during the 1960s. "We didn't have MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers)," the 46-year-old officer noted. "It took some kind of major loss before anyone acted."

So for years he attended on his own time every available class and training session that dealt with the subject. He read every pertinent book he could find.

Recognized as Experts

He and his teaching partner, Sgt. Jerry Powell, now both recognized for court purposes as drug-alcohol experts, travel to other cities to pass their learning on to officers there. They usually make such trips on compensatory time, collecting expenses from host agencies.

Their efforts and those of others Studdard has worked with appear to be showing results. The apprehension of motorists with 0.15% blood-alcohol level or less is becoming more and more frequent, according to George Anikas, director of alcohol countermeasures at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (The legal limit in California is 0.10%.)

Anikas attributes the increase, which he could not quantify, to the growing confidence of officers in the newly standardized tests. (In Los Angeles, there were 3,397 arrests for driving under the influence in December, an increase of 684 compared to the same month a year earlier.)

Only 3% Were Convicted

After his experience with the reluctant doctor nearly 15 years ago, Studdard was appalled to discover that only about 3% of the motorists arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs were convicted.

For one thing, drug users did not smell like boozers. For another, there was no standardized field sobriety test for both alcohol and drugs. Without a doctor's examination and subsequent testimony, the presence of drugs was not easy to prove to a judge's satisfaction.

As for drinkers, Studdard said, there was another problem: "The attitude of most police, prosecutors and judges was, 'There, but for the grace of God, go I.' It was almost socially acceptable, even by law enforcement officers, to be drunk."

Wouldn't Accept It

But it was not acceptable to Studdard, who noted that in the last decade drunk motorists have nearly wiped out the equivalent of the population of Rochester, N.Y.

At the outset, Studdard worked with another concerned sergeant, Lynn Leeds, since retired. They pored over old studies from Scandinavia, where tough laws have been enacted, and other literature in an effort to develop a standardized test for both alcohol and drugs. That led to work with drug experts at UCLA and with such agencies as the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Studdard, listed by both the Police Department and the city attorney's office as a drug recognition expert after department training, soon found himself involved with the Southern California Research Institute in Culver City, where private and federal grants were being used to study the effects of alcohol and drugs on human performance, particularly on driving.

Seminars Conducted

The researchers concluded that the tests are useful in detecting both alcohol and drugs. Until then, Studdard said, "there was no way to spot drug-influenced drivers." The standardized testing manual that he helped put together was modified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and in 1982, Studdard and Powell began conducting seminars for police agencies here and across the country. About 120 Los Angeles officers now are qualified drug recognition experts.

Two of the three standardized tests are the "one-legged stand," in which a suspect is required to stand on one foot while counting, and the walk-and-turn, in which he or she is asked to walk toe-to-heel after receiving specific instructions. Both are tests of equilibrium and ability to understand directions.

But it is the "horizontal gaze nystagmus," a test that has been in use for 30 years, that stirs controversy. Officers favor it because no attorney can plead a language problem. But a lot of judges distrust it on the grounds that it cannot be used by someone without medical training.

Follow the Eyeballs

It is administered by moving a finger or ballpoint pen back and forth in front of a suspect and gauging the involuntary vertical movement of the eyeballs. Studdard insisted that it can help a police officer in the field determine within an average of .03% how much alcohol is in a suspect's blood.

Anikas of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called the finger test "an excellent tool for roadside testing," but he said it should not be used without the two other tests.

"When he (Studdard) talked about gaze nystagmus, the effect was sensational because it was so new, so novel and yet easy to observe," said John LaParo, chief assistant district attorney in Syracuse, N.Y, where Studdard spoke last year. "There has not been any increase in drunk-driving arrests, but there has been a substantial increase in the number of arrests of people driving under the influence of narcotics."

'It's a Slow Process'

Some of the judges suspicious of nystagmus testing by police officers are coming around, Studdard said. "It's a slow process. Some judges think it's about as reliable as a Ouija board. Those that are skeptical, we hope to convince."

In any event, Studdard is certain that improved training of police officers and the accelerated drive by law enforcement agencies against drunk and drugged drivers means "we are going to see a dramatic increase in driving-under-the-influence arrests this year."

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