Can Field Sobriety Test Errors Help Me?

It is highly likely that the police officer who stopped you, or found you behind the wheel in your stationary car, administered field sobriety tests to you before he or she arrested you.

These evaluations can include a wide variety of agility exercises, mental acuity drills, plus the most common “standardized” three evaluations: the horizontal gaze nystagmus evaluation, the one leg stand, and the nine-step walk and turn. Other evaluations such as reciting the alphabet (or partial alphabet) and anything else the officer may ask you to do in the time between your first encounter with the police officer and your arrest, are being done for one purpose: to gather further alleged incriminatory evidence against you in order to later use it at your trial.

The “standardized” field sobriety evaluations refer to a set of roadside evaluations that were created and implemented by NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration). This federal agency is an arm of the Department of Transportation. These NHTSA field tests have been in use across the United States for over twenty years. Most DUI-DWI “task force” officers use and rely upon these evaluations to assist them in deciding on whom to arrest.

When performed, demonstrated and instructed correctly, in fair conditions and to a healthy subject with no physical defects or impairments, these evaluations can help identity a driver whose blood alcohol level is over 0.10 in the majority of cases. They are in no way close to being reliable in identifying drivers at or near the 0.08 level any better than 50% of the time, despite police officers’ claims (based on the so-called “validation studies.”)

In some jurisdictions, certain types of field sobriety evidence are not permitted to be used by the prosecutor at trial to prove impairment or even to show the presence of alcohol in a person’s system. In other states, such field sobriety (roadside sobriety) test information is limited to proving the presence of alcohol.

If these evaluations are allowed into evidence in your state, but were done incorrectly, or if the officer’s decision to arrest you for DUI-DWI was based on non-standardized field sobriety procedures that have no proven reliability, your lawyer may be able to argue that this evidence be excluded or (possibly) that the entire arrest for DUI-DWI was invalid due to the unreliable “evidence of impairment” based on flawed field testing.

If the arrest was invalid, then the drunken driving charges against you must typically be dropped. This is why it is critical for you to remember every detail of all of the conversations and activities between you and the police officer that occurred in the time before your arrest.

As soon as possible after your arrest, write down each and every detail of the entire involvement of the police officers, breath test operators, hospital personnel, etc.