Defending Against a Failed Sobriety Test

Field sobriety tests are used by law enforcement to determine whether a driver's physical and mental coordination has been thrown off in connection with alcohol consumption. These tests are commonly used in DUI arrests. Unfortunately, many who have been stopped by police do not realize that these tests are not mandatory. While they are commonplace, the reliability of these tests is usually less than 77%. This means that many people whose DUI arrests are based on the results of a field sobriety test are actually not under the influence at all.

Can I fight back against a field sobriety test?

There are numerous field sobriety tests, but the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has approved only three that they consider to be accurate in determining someone's level of intoxication. These are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one-leg stand test. Only the horizontal gaze nystagmus test responds to a natural bodily response and is the most reliable at determining whether an alleged drunk driver has a BAC over 0.10%.

As these tests are so unreliable, there are a number of defenses that can be employed:

  • Pre-existing physical or mental impairments
  • Movement of an officer during testing
  • Effects of environmental conditions
  • Testing outside of those approved by NHTSA
  • Non-alcohol related coordination concerns
  • Incorrect or unclear testing instructions

The best thing that any driver can do when law enforcement requests a field sobriety test is to politely decline. A suspected driver is not legally obligated to speak to police or follow their instructions for a roadside field sobriety test. These tests are usually designed for a driver to fail, and the only test of their BAC that they must comply with occurs after they have been formally arrested for DUI.

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