Understanding the Field Sobriety Test

Field sobriety tests are administered to determine if a police officer has probable cause to make a DUI arrest and ask a suspect to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test. Most police departments follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Student Manual. According to this manual, a field sobriety test should be given on dry, even pavement. Additionally, there are numerous instructions for what to do if a test subject hops onto one leg momentarily, lifts his arms 6 inches or more, or stops for a moment. In addition to these kinds of instructions are several others regarding the horizontal stigma (eye) test and straight line walking test. Any departure or failure of an officer to follow proper procedure when giving a field sobriety test may be grounds for having a DUI charge dismissed.

As an attorney, I investigate the scene where a field sobriety test was given. I look for uneven and broken pavement and check what the weather conditions were like at the time. If dashboard video is available, I review the actions of the arresting officer and identify mistakes that compromise the reliability of the field sobriety test. If you've been arrested for drunk driving, contact me, field sobriety test lawyer Craig Kuhary, in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Reliable?

A field sobriety test is supposed to determine whether or not an officer has probable cause to arrest a suspect for drunk driving. How well or poorly someone does on a field sobriety test is, however, a matter of judgment on the part of an officer. Practically speaking, this means an officer acts as judge and jury in the field. If he makes a mistake or fails to properly follow procedure, there is no one there to advocate on your behalf.

Secondly, field sobriety tests are really nothing more than agility tests. Some people, due to inner ear problems, age, health conditions, or poor balance, will fail them even when sober. In fact, researchers S. Cole & R.H. Nowaczyk conducted a study involving 21 people with a BAC of 0.00 performing the field sobriety test. When officers reviewed the film of these test subjects, 46% of them thought they had too much to drink. This is a good indication of just how unreliable a field sobriety test can be.

The Importance of how a Field Sobriety Test is Conducted

Officers should receive instruction in how to properly administer a field sobriety test. They should be knowledgeable of the procedures and instructions in the DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Student Manual involving where a test should be conducted, what should be done when a test subject halts, moves from one foot to the other, or moves his arms up and down while trying to walk a straight line. That's why I recover dashboard footage of a field sobriety test when possible. I also inspect the area where a test was conducted, noting any uneven pavement, gravel, or inclines. In many cases, I can have a DUI charge dismissed if there are clearly identifiable violations of proper procedure when administering the field sobriety test.

Contact DUI Defense Attorney Craig Kuhary Today

There are a number of things that can go wrong when administering a field sobriety test. If you've been arrested for drunk driving, contact me, DUI defense attorney Craig Kuhary, to discuss your case and the options available to you.