Common Misconceptions Regarding Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Interviewer: What would you say are the top misconceptions people have about standardized field sobriety tests?

Zach Peagler: I think probably that they are subjective and not objective. And so, I think the general public thinks it’s just a matter, the police officer gets me out there to perform some tricks and if you can’t perform them right then they just say, ‘You look intoxicated to me’, but that’s not the way it works. It’s a point by point analysis of what’s specifically that person’s not doing right that is then scientifically verifiable to say that’s an indicator of impairment.

The Field Sobriety Tests Can be Construed as a Sort of Checklist

Interviewer: Do these tests, would you say kind of like a checklist?

Zach Peagler: Oh yes. It is. They’re trying to get as many clues as they can if that person is impaired. If you get, what I consider probably a lazy police officer, we get cases where they smell alcohol on the person and they ask them to take a portable breath test, and then they arrest them. That’s very questionable from a probable cause stand point because the mere odor of alcohol is not a suggestion of impairment. So it’s arguable that they even have the right to ask the person to take a portable breath test if the only probable cause they have for that is the smell of alcohol.

Police Officers May be Inaccurate When Administering or Interpreting these Tests

Interviewer: Are police officers ever inaccurate when they administer these tests and if so what are some examples of that?

Zach Peagler: I think it happens more times than it doesn’t happen that the police officers are inaccurate and they don’t properly explain or demonstrate the tests, they don’t take proper notes on what the exact impairment was. They may say in general the person didn’t touch heel to toe. Well, they’re supposed to say on which step did they not touch heel to toe and the person didn’t complete the turn properly. How did they not complete the turn properly? Sometimes when you get into a cross examination situation with police officers that don’t make a lot of DUI arrests, or haven’t been able to make a lot of DUI arrests their whole career.

The American Justice System is Not Based on Accusations But on the Solid Foundations of Evidence

They don’t remember or know the rules on what they’re supposed to be looking for and that looks bad in front of the judge or jury if you start nailing down. Well, how many steps did you tell this person to take? Did you demonstrate the test? How exactly? When did they not touch heel to toe? When were they not steady? How exactly did they fail to complete the turn? Those are the things, and if they don’t have proper notes, they often times can’t remember. Well, a good jury is going to hold the police officers to the standard they need to be held to. You can’t just come to court and say somebody was drunk behind the wheel. You need to demonstrate why you’re able to say that and that’s the way the American Justice system is supposed to work. It’s not just based on accusations, it’s based on evidence.

Police Officers Mostly Misinterpret the Walk and Turn Test in Alabama

Interviewer: What’s as far as the police officers, what test do they get the most inaccurate as far as they explain or…?

Zach Peagler: The walk and turn test, it’s a difficult one to go through the check list and to demonstrate properly and it kind of takes a long time. On the side of the road, if you are a police officer that’s going to really properly explain and demonstrate the walk and turn test, it may take 90 seconds or more which might not seem long when we talk on the phone but it seems like a long time when standing on the side of the road especially when a lot of the police are pre-disposed to think ‘I know what of the result of the test are going to be. This person’s intoxicated.’ I just got to get them to do it, so I can check the box that says I got them to do it but they’re not really thinking about, ‘Can this person properly perform this test?’

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