Derby police will go through a series of steps if they suspect that you are driving under the influence. To help them make the determination that you are indeed intoxicated, they may ask you to perform standardized field sobriety tests. These are common roadside tests that supposedly determine if a person is under the influence of alcohol or not. Of course, we as DUI defense lawyers see many flaws with these tests and certainly don’t believe that failing these tests always points to intoxication. Let’s get into these tests and combating their results on this page.
While police officers and prosecutors will have you believe that standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) can accurately determine a person’s intonation, the truth is that this is not always the case. There are so many factors that could go wrong when instructing, administering, and scoring these tests, that their accuracy should seriously be called into question. In fact, many DUI defense lawyers believe that these tests are designed to make people fail.
In order for the standardized field sobriety tests to be accurate, so many things must go right. First, the police officer must be properly trained to administer these tests. They also need to accurately instruct a driver on how to perform the tests. The police officer needs to make sure that the roadside conditions are good – for example, that there is ample light, the road isn’t sloping, that the weather is good, etc. Oftentimes, police officers can’t account for factors such as snow, rain, ice, extreme cold or heat, etc. and these issues can skew the results.
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The police officer must also account for factors in the driver that could lead to inaccurate test results that have nothing to do with intoxication. This might include poor vision, uncomfortable or restrictive clothing, medical conditions, being overweight or obese, nerves, etc. It is nearly impossible to account for all of these issues and ensure that the driver has taken the test with no outside factors impacting the results.
Finally, the police officer needs to know how to properly score the test and must do so correctly. Incorrect scoring can be a big issue and is oftentimes up to the officer’s discretion.
So when you consider all of these factors, how scientific are these SFSTs, really? We think there is a lot of room to question the results.
The Tests Themselves
The SFSTs consist of three “scientific” tests – the walk-and-turn test, the one-leg stand test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
The walk and turn test is a divided attention test asking drivers to walk nine heel-to-toe steps in a perfect line, turn around, and walk back.
The one-leg stand test is another divided attention test, asking the driver to stand on one leg while counting to 30. As you can imagine, balance, core strength, and lower body strength can make a huge difference in test results. Even a healthy person may lose their balance in the course of 30 seconds, and this issue is compounded due to nerves, being overweight, wearing heels, etc.
The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is considered the most scientifically accurate of the three tests, but there is still room to question this test’s results. During this test, a police officer will ask a driver to follow an object such as a pen with their eyes, not turning their head. The idea is that when a person is intoxicated, they will be unable to follow the pen without an involuntary jerking of their eyes. However, there can be other reasons why a person would fail this test, including medical conditions.
Question the SFSTs
As you can see, many factors can make the standardized field sobriety tests inaccurate. At the very least, it is a good idea to question their accuracy with the help of a Derby DUI defense attorney. Contact us for more information – we have challenged these test results before!