DUI Task Forces and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


A couple of months ago I was observing a colleague’s DUI trial. The basic facts are as follows:

The police, in the process of arresting someone for DUI, heard a “collision.” They look up and see my colleague’s client, the defendant, sitting in his vehicle across the street from where they are located. The officers never saw a collision. The bumper of the defendant’s vehicle was touching the vehicle in front of it. The officers approached the defendant’s vehicle and tell him that he was just in an “accident.”  Stating they have reason to believe that he had been drinking, they then instruct him to get out of his vehicle and begin conducting field sobriety tests. According to the officers, the defendant failed them and was charged with DUI. During the trial, in cross-examining the reporting officers, the defense attorney was able to extract testimony that the officers were part of a DUI task force. The sole duty of DUI task force members is to seek out and arrest people suspected of driving under the influence. It was further disclosed by the officers during cross examination that promotion and advancement was partly based on the quantity of their DUI arrests. Do the officers see what they want to see? Do they see what they expect to see? Do they see what it is that their job requires them to see? Could it be possible that by virtue of their “task” alone that DUI’s magically appear before their eyes? Enter the self-fulfilling prophecy. Austrian-American psychologist and philosopher, Paul Watzlawick, stated “A self-fulfilling prophecy is an assumption or prediction that, purely as a result of having been made, causes the expected or predicted event to occur and thus confirms its own ‘accuracy.’” Notwithstanding the officers’ testimony to the contrary, the defendant was acquitted of driving under the influence by the jury.

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