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Why We Don’t Worry About Field Sobriety Tests All That Much

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You’ve been pulled over by a cop.

You agree to perform field sobriety tests, so the officer asks you to do some really weird stuff. The next thing you know, you have been arrested because you “failed” the tests. The officer seems so confident. How will you ever overcome this?

You can overcome this with an experienced DUI lawyer who can attack the tests. Here is the briefest overview of these tests, and an explanation of why we feel juries can be convinced the tests don’t prove a whole lot.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

These tests were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with the admirable goal to help officers assess whether a driver is impaired. We’ve seen many cases that make us wonder if they aren’t just used to confirm an opinion formed before you ever got out of the car. Two very basic things to know about the tests:

  • “Clues” – That’s what the tests look for. That means hints or possibilities, rather than hard evidence. Just because you show clues doesn’t mean you’re impaired. And clues can be false leads.
  • “Standardized” – If the tests are not given exactly right, any result is unreliable. A sharp, experienced DUI or DUAC lawyer can figure this out and call the state on it at trial.

The Three Tests  

There are only three standardized filed sobriety tests. Any other test you might be given—such as saying your ABC’s backwards or touching all of your fingers to your thumb—proves nothing. Here are the approved tests and a brief thought about why they’re not reliable:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus. This measures the jerking of your eye as an object passes through your field of vision, usually the officer’s finger or pen. This is a test developed by brain doctors to assess brain damage. Officers aren’t doctors, and DUI isn’t brain damage.
  • Walk and turn, also known as “heel-to-toe.” This test contains eight possible clues, several of which can be shown multiple times. If you show two or more clues, you are considered to have failed the test. You can show two clues before you ever start walking. That’s right, the test is so biased against you that you can fail before you start.
  • One leg stand. Basically, this measures your ability to stand on one leg for about a half minute, almost perfectly motionless. Unless you’re the Karate Kid or a ballerina, you probably fail this one, even without alcohol.

If you get arrested for DUI or DUAC based on field sobriety tests—which happens to a lot of people—it may have been the end of the officer’s investigation, but it’s nowhere near the end of your hope to beat the case. If you have questions about your DUI or DUAC case, download our free report with lots of information about your case, or start a live chat to schedule a free meeting to discuss how we can win your case.

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
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