What Are The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?

These are tests that were allegedly designed to help law enforcement officers gain probable cause to make a DUI arrest if someone did not perform well on them. Only three standardized field sobriety tests are recognized by the National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration, namely the Walk and Turn test, the One Leg Stand and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test.

Various law enforcement agencies use a variety of other tests, such as saying the alphabet backwards or touching your fingertips to your thumb or touching your fingertip to your nose, but they are not recognized by the National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration as standardized field sobriety tests, so they really do not have any scientific validity to them. Most of those other tests would not be admissible in a court in Alabama anyway.

Can Health Issues Impact The Outcome Of Some Of These Tests And Can Anyone Be Exempted?

Someone with a severe enough physical issue could certainly tell the police officer that was the reason they were refusing to take the test, because the police cannot force someone to take the tests. If the person just had knee surgery, they were on crutches, in a cast, or any manner of things, they should certainly tell the police about that as the reason they did not want to take the test.

Environmental factors could also play in with the roadside being slanted or gravelly or it being dark outside, there being poor lighting or anything like that. They should tell the police if they felt there was anything unfair when performing the tests although it is my opinion that the tests are inherently unfair anyway and they are designed for people to fail.

What Kind Of Training Do The Police Officers Actually Have To Give These Tests?

Every law enforcement officer in the country has been trained under the National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration’s DUI Investigation manual, so they have been trained on the proper way to administer the three field sobriety tests, the way to investigate a traffic stop for suspicion of DUI before they ever have contact with the person and what would be required before they could even suspect a driver was driving under the influence.

They also teach them what happens in the personal contact phase and in the field sobriety testing phase to help them gather probable cause to make a proper arrest, although it is amazing how few officers actually do the investigation and end up doing the field sobriety tests improperly.

What Are Some Defense Strategies You Have Used If An Officer Claimed Someone Performed Poorly In These Tests?

In most instances in Alabama, the person might have two separate bites of the apple, so to speak. If the case started in municipal court or district court, the person could have a trial and nail the officer’s testimony down as to what he said happened. The person could then go back to the NHTSA’s manual and match up his testimony with what should have happened in each field sobriety test. The way the field sobriety tests are administered is objective in nature so objective factors would be considered that scientifically signified impairment.

We would use the strategy to have the trial at the municipal court or district court level and then really nail down the officer on what they did, what tests they made the person perform and what clues they claimed the person had made mistakes on. We would ask if the person started the Walk and Turn test too early, whether they failed to touch heel to toe, on which steps they failed to touch heel to toe, whether they performed the turn properly and if not, then what they might have done to have performed it improperly.

We would ask whether the officer gave the person the exact instructions they were supposed to give them and then we would go back and match up the video, if there was a dash-cam video. The most important thing would be figuring out what the officer said the person had done improperly, because in a lot of instances, they do not write a report of exactly what gave them probable cause for the arrest.

Do You Have Any Specific Defense Strategies For DUI Cases?

The strategy I just talked about is something we implement in a lot of our cases. In Alabama, a lot of negotiated pleas result in dismissals or sealing of the record, so these strategies would not come into play in some of those cases, although we could implement these strategies all the time when talking about somebody who had a prior DUI, or when a plea bargain could not be reached for some reason. A specific example does not come to mind over any others but these strategies have proved successful over the years.

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