Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) are psychophysical tests. A Connecticut DUI field test is an “objective” and “standardized” measure of a sample of behavior, focusing on three elements.

Test Elements

1) Objectivity: Aspects of a test have basis in objective criteria and not influenced by the subjective opinion of examiner. This includes the scoring or the interpretation of the score.

2) Standardization: There is uniformity of procedure in the administration, scoring and interpretation of the test and results.

3) Behavior Sample: A representative sample of a person’s behavior from which one can draw inferences and hypotheses.

A test is not a psychological x-ray, nor does it necessarily reveal hidden conflicts and forbidden wishes.

Psychological Tests

Psychological tests must meet three criteria: Reliability, standardization, and validity. Many professionals use the tests. This includes psychologists, special education teachers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists, speech therapists, nurses and engineers.

Psychophysical tests should require evaluation of the subject’s appearance and condition. It also considers ability to follow instructions, balance, and coordination. These types of tests go by divided attention tests. They require the subject to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. This divides the subject’s attention between mental and physical tasks. Studies show that a person under the influence may perform one of these tasks but rarely both. If under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, people are likely to make certain predictable errors while attempting these tasks.

Since the mid 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted research that resulted in the development of a battery of three standardized field sobriety tests. These tests consist of horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn and the one leg stand. They assist police officers in detecting impaired drivers.

Sobriety Testing History

The program used to go by the improved sobriety testing. It got validated in laboratory and field studies conducted by the Southern California Research Institute. The Los Angeles Police Department developed these tests. The methodology of conducting these tests is included in the NHTSA course “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.”

In 1986, the Advisory Committee on Highway Safety of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) passed a resolution. The resolution recommended that law enforcement agencies adopt and implement these sobriety tests. As the program grew, it became apparent that in order to insure continued success, they needed nationally accepted standards. Standardization that established criteria for the selection and training of SFST practitioners would help. It would insure the continued high level of success of the SFST program. In 1992, the IACP Highway Safety Committee recommended the development of this system of nationally accepted standards.

In April of 1992, the IACP and NHTSA sponsored a meeting at the headquarters of IACP in Arlington, Virginia. Persons invited to this meeting included SFST instructors from several states, curriculum specialists and training administrators. The participants met in working groups to reach a consensus concerning the many issues relating to the SFST program and to develop recommended minimum standards to the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety. The standards were drafted and presented to the committee for their review at the midyear meeting in June 1992.

Adopting Standards

The Advisory Committee on Highway Safety by resolution adopted the National Standards for the SFST Program. Then, voting membership of the IACP subsequently approved the standards. In order to maintain the credibility and integrity of the program, agencies that use a training program other than the IACP must have the alternative curriculum approved by the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety as meeting the required learning objectives. This is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Presently, SFST training for police officers (and the few DUI defense attorneys, including Attorney Ruane, who have been taught the regimen) must be 16 hours in length and include at least two controlled drinking sessions utilizing volunteer drinkers. This is in accordance with section 1.2 of the Standards for Training in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.

In section 1.4, in order to satisfactorily complete the classroom portion of the training, SFST candidates must complete the IACP approved final examination with a score of not less than eighty percent. Candidates scoring less than 80% on the final may re-test one time under the supervision of a SFST instructor. The retest should happen not less than 15 days and not more than 30 days following the completion of the classroom training, and the examination used shall not have been administered to the candidate previously. If the candidate does not achieve a passing score on reexamination, the candidate must retake the classroom portion of the training and pass the final examination.

Test Requirements

The US DOT requires 35 practice tests within a six month period, but local and state police have varying requirements based on their own department’s criteria. A refusal of a chemical test cannot act as a practice test, as a blood alcohol reading must corroborate the evaluation of the suspect. The officer gets trained to conduct the HGN test last during their practice test period and not to formulate an opinion based on the results or use it for probable cause to arrest. They get told not to document the test due to this.

At no time may a person tested get used more than once on a practice test. As a result of this it is necessary to review the documentation of the practice tests in order to determine if the practitioner was properly recommended for certification.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

After probable cause is determined, an officer will most often attempt to recover more evidence that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and an officer may ask a person to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.

In every state you do not have to take field sobriety tests, but in each state the law is different regarding whether or not you have to consent to a blood breath or urine test. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, usually conducted on the side of the road, do nothing to prove your sobriety, and oftentimes can hurt your defense. The officer cannot force you to do these tests, so politely decline. However, in Connecticut, while you do not have to take a blood, breath or urine test, a refusal will trigger a longer DMV administrative suspension. If an officer tells you he will let you go if you take them, you should still decline. They can only add to the probable cause for your arrest.