Field Sobriety Tests: Does Everyone Fail?

Field Sobriety Tests: Does Everyone Fail?

A Standard Set of Tests

California law enforcement uses standardized field sobriety tests during roadside DUI stops. The tests, which are little understood, do not garner much public support. Many claim they are invasive and are designed to fail. Many factors can influence their reliability, and it’s important to keep that in mind if you are facing DUI charges. Now, let us take a look at how these tests are conducted and why the results can’t always be trusted.

Standardized but Not Universal

Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) test for functions and performance measures that could indicate a person was driving under the influence. The problem is, however, even a sober person could easily fail an SFST. SFSTs are comprised of three tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus tests for lack of smooth pursuit in tracking an object. Alcohol can cause the eye to make involuntary jerking movements while tracking an object. Thus, if the subject lacked smooth pursuit, he or she could fail that test. The walk and turn tests for coordination and the ability to follow simple instructions. Alcohol can hinder both of these. But a sober person who is uncoordinated or has a poor memory recall or is otherwise unable to follow simple instructions could easily fail this test, too. Similarly, a sober person could fail the one-leg stand if he or she had poor balance, which many people do. As you can see, SFSTs present a problem. They can accurately identify intoxicated drivers but without precision. They can also misidentify sober people as intoxicated, too.

All three of these tests test for basic physical and cognitive capabilities. True, alcohol can affect them, but so can medications, lack of sleep, lack of physical coordination or muscle tone, anxiety, low blood sugar, a medical condition, and caffeine, just to name a few influencing factors. For example, if you had more caffeine than you usually do and were given an SFST, chances are good you would have less than perfect coordination or balance. Caffeine can affect your body as much as alcohol does in some ways. Similarly, if you had a medical condition that caused lack of muscle tone, standing on one leg might prove difficult. These factors should not be held against you.

Again, SFSTs are little understood by the public. Many people don’t realize how easy they are to fail, the numerous factors that can affect performance, and the fact that they aren’t required to submit to them by law. Unlike breathalyzer tests and blood tests for blood alcohol concentration (BAC), refusing an SFST does not result in an automatic one-year license suspension. Will refusing a test save you from arrest? Probably not. Will it make the prosecutor’s job of convicting you harder? It probably will. Remember, if law enforcement wants to find evidence you were under the influence, they will find it by any means necessary. SFSTs can identify drunk drivers, but they can also result in sober people being arrested for a DUI.

If you are facing DUI charges, speak with an experienced California DUI defense attorney about your case. If you took an SFST, an attorney can obtain a copy of the test results and help you interpret the results. The officer should have taken notes on your performance, and those notes may reveal a poor judgment call. A good attorney with sufficient experience defending DUI cases can evaluate the facts and circumstances of your case and advise you on the best course of action. If you plan to fight your charges, the results of your SFST will play an important role. If the results of the SFST are not accurate or the officer did not conduct the tests properly, your attorney may be able to have the results of the SFST thrown out so they cannot be held against you.

Facing DUI charges can be overwhelming, but experienced Visalia area DUI defense attorney Christopher Martens can help you navigate the process. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you build a strategic defense to fight your charges. Attorney Martens has practiced criminal defense for over ten years and knows how to defend your rights.  Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.

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