The Myths And Facts About Field Sobriety Tests

Whether you’ve only seen one second-hand in TV or movies, or have had to undergo one personally, just about everyone is familiar with the concept of a field sobriety test.

However, while law enforcement would like you to think their field sobriety testing tools are infallible, there are several myths and misconceptions surrounding FSTs that the general public may not be aware of.

The Myths And Facts About Field Sobriety Tests

Keep reading to learn more about some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding field sobriety tests.

Types Of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are a series of physical and mental exercises administered by police officers to determine if a person suspected of impaired driving is intoxicated with alcohol or other drugs. These tests can be categorized into four general categories: balance tests, coordination tests, mental agility tests, and eye tests.

Balance Tests

These tests assess a suspect's ability to maintain balance while performing specific tasks. The most common balance tests include:

  • Walk-and-Turn Test (WAT): The individual is directed to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, count them out loud, and keep their arms at their side.
  • One-Leg Stand Test (OLS): The suspect is asked to stand on one leg while counting aloud for a specified period.
  • Romberg Balance Test: This test involves standing with feet together, head tilted back, and eyes closed while estimating the passage of 30 seconds.

Coordination Tests

These tests evaluate a suspect's ability to perform physical and mental coordination tasks. Examples of coordination tests include:

  • Finger-to-Nose Test: The individual is instructed to touch their nose with their fingertip while keeping their eyes closed.
  • Finger Tap Test: The suspect is asked to tap their fingers together in a specific pattern.
  • Hand Pat Test: The individual is required to pat their hands together, alternating between the palm and back of the hand.

Mental Agility Tests

These tests assess a suspect's cognitive abilities by focusing on tasks requiring divided attention.

One example is the Reciting the Alphabet test, where the individual is asked to recite the alphabet either forwards or backward. Another example is the Counting Backwards test, where the suspect is instructed to count backward from a specific number.

Both of these tests challenge the individual's ability to concentrate and perform tasks simultaneously, providing insight into their cognitive capabilities.

Eye Tests

These tests evaluate a suspect's eye movements and reactions to stimuli. The most common eye test is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN), which involves observing the suspect's eyes as they follow a moving object, such as a pen or flashlight.

Common Field Sobriety Tests Myths

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about field sobriety testing. While we would never suggest breaking the law or lying to law enforcement, it is important for every citizen to know their rights.

Field Sobriety Tests Are Always Accurate

Research has shown that the accuracy of FSTs can vary significantly, calling into question their reliability as a definitive intoxication indicator.

Numerous factors unrelated to alcohol or drug use can affect an individual's performance on these tests, potentially leading to false-positive results. What could be interpreted as intoxication may be a person’s uncontrollable inability to pass these tests successfully.

Physical disabilities or medical conditions can affect a person's ability to maintain balance or demonstrate coordination during the FST. Conditions such as inner ear disorders, neurological problems, or musculoskeletal problems can affect a person's performance even if they aren't under the influence.

Field Sobriety Tests Are Mandatory

Contrary to popular belief, FSTs are voluntary, and individuals have the legal right to decline participation without facing criminal charges.

However, it's important to understand that refusing an FST can result in an arrest based on the officer's suspicion of impaired driving. The officer may rely on other observed evidence to support their suspicions, such as erratic driving, slurred speech, or the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath.

While your refusal to participate in an FST may not be considered direct evidence of your guilt, it may be considered, along with other evidence, as probable cause for an arrest or further investigation.

Only Alcohol Affects FST Results

FSTs are designed to assess a person's ability to drive when impaired by not only alcohol but also drugs and prescription medications.

The tests can respond to the effects of substances other than alcohol, such as marijuana, opioids, or benzodiazepines, which can impair a person's balance, coordination, and cognitive functions.

A driver under the influence of marijuana may exhibit slowed reaction time and difficulty concentrating. On the other hand, someone impaired by opioids or benzodiazepines may exhibit poor balance and coordination.

External Factors Can’t Affect FST Results

External factors may influence an FST’s results since these tests are designed to assess a person's balance, coordination, and cognitive abilities. However, several external factors can also affect a person's performance, making it difficult to determine the actual cause of impairment.

Here are some external factors that may impact a person’s ability to complete an FST successfully:

  • Environmental conditions such as uneven or slippery surfaces, poor lighting, and adverse weather conditions can make it difficult for even a sober person to perform well on a test.
  • Distractions, such as flashing lights from a police vehicle, passing traffic, or onlookers, may interfere with an individual's ability to focus on the tasks required during an FST.
  • How an officer explains and demonstrates the FST can also affect results. If the instructions are unclear or the demonstration is confusing, the individual may not fully understand what is expected of them, resulting in poor performance on the test.
  • An officer’s interpretation can lead to inconsistencies in administration and scoring. Different officers may score the same performance differently, and factors such as the officer's experience, training, or preconceived notions about the driver may unintentionally influence the test results.

Challenging Field Sobriety Test Results

If you believe that your field sobriety test results were misinterpreted or that you were wrongfully charged with a DUI, you need to seek the help and expertise of a lawyer. Using one of the tactics below, an attorney help challenge the FST results and potentially help you win your case.

  • They can argue that the officer misinterpreted your actions or failed to consider external factors, such as weather or road conditions, that could have affected your test performance.
  • Inconsistencies in the officer's report or testimony can be pointed out, highlighting potential biases or inaccuracies in assessing your performance.
  • Your attorney can present evidence or expert testimony to support the argument that certain medical conditions, fatigue, or even nervousness could have contributed to your performance on the FST rather than intoxication.

By challenging the officer's observations and considering all possible factors, your attorney can help create reasonable doubt regarding the reliability of the FST results and strengthen your defense.

A DUI charge can be overwhelming and frightening, but you don't have to face it alone. If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence, hiring an experienced attorney who understands the complexities of field sobriety testing can make the difference between a dismissal and a conviction.

Call Weinstein Legal today at (888) 626-1108, or click here to schedule a free consultation with an experienced DUI attorney near you.

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