Think you know the truth about what’s in a field sobriety test? Think again! What if we told you that, by believing all those field sobriety test myths out there, you risk:
a. Building the authorities’ case against yourself (in case you do get charged with a DUI/OWI later on)?;
b. Taking some really poorly informed decisions on the spot?
Today’s post is all about how not to fall into such traps. We hope it comes in handy, should you or a loved one be mandated to take a field sobriety test under less than optimal conditions.
Image source: Deposit Photos
Next time you get pulled over in a DUI stop, remember these facts:
Not all you know about a standardized field sobriety test is true!
Myth #1: You are mandated by law to submit to a field sobriety test
This fear-based misconception relates to the consequences of refusing to submit to a chemical sobriety test. In other words, if you refuse to get breathalyzed or to have blood drawn for alcohol testing, you will have your license automatically suspended.
However, should you be stopped for a standardized DUI/OWI test:
- You do have the right to say no. If you refuse, no penalty will be automatically inflicted upon you.
- You might be right to refuse. If you have reason to believe you’d ‘fail’ the test (for any given number of motives), it’s probably in our best interest to say no. If you don’t pass the test, this can amount to evidence in court, in a DUI case against you.
That being said, even if you do turn down a field sobriety test, the police may still order a chemical test. They don’t need to bring too much evidence to support their belief that you are, in fact, intoxicated.
Myth #2: All police officers will ask you perform the same kind of tests
Of course, as we’ve previously discussed, there are two types of field sobriety tests:
- Standardized – as established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- Non-standardized – we’ve covered this category in detail before.
Essentially, tests in the latter category have not been deemed relevant via sound scientific studies by any authority in the field. Ever heard of the Sobriety Test game? It’s a fun party and drinking game, where you have to pass tests like reciting Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star backwards or remember the 12 signs of the zodiac.
That’s just about how relevant non-standardized field sobriety tests are, too. In other words, there’s no proven correlation between your results on such tests and our ability to drive, or lack thereof.
Aside from this, non-standard field sobriety tests can be administered in whichever manner any particular officer sees fit. For standard FSTs, the NHTSA publishes strict regulations, which clearly state how these procedures should unfold.
Think this is no big deal? Think of the Rothmberg Balance Test. Normally, this test should have you tilt your head back and then close your eyes. In actuality, some police officers reverse the order of these steps. Try it now, when sober. You’ll find it’s far easier to tilt your head back and keep your balance with your eyes already closed.
Non-standardized test results have held up in court as reliable proof that a person was driving inebriated, so we advise you just refuse to take them. With no standard procedure or evidence that such correlations are accurate, a failure to pass these tests could sentence you to a DUI you never committed.
Myth #3: Field sobriety tests are objectively accurate
Do you really think there’s any objective standard to assess how you perform on a field sobriety test?
Leaving non-standardized tests aside, consider the following aspects:
- Some people have motor skill deficiencies that are unrelated to alcohol consumption. Indeed, previous medical conditions may leave someone impaired to the point where holding their balance (especially while under stress) becomes difficult. In such cases, drivers risk losing their license, even if they’re 100% sober.
- It’s only what you do wrong that matters. In plain English, police officers don’t really care that you correctly complete some parts of the tests. If you make one wrong move, though, it will count against you.
As such, it’s safe to conclude that the majority of FSTs, be they standardized or non-standardized, are biased against the driver. With a lack of solid methodology and no proper evaluation for the results, there’s little left to defend the claim that these tests are objective.
Myth #4: If you fail a field sobriety test, you might as well kiss your license goodbye
While it’s true that a failed FST can contribute to a case against you, especially if you later find yourself under arrest and charged with driving under the influence, it definitely doesn’t mean this is the end. There are plenty of things you can do, with an experienced DUI/OWI lawyer on your team.
- Your failed BAC or FST test results can be thrown out of court. With such instrumental evidence out of the picture, the case against you will clearly stand on much weaker footing.
- Your charges are reduced. In some cases, depending on the specifics, you can even have those charges dismissed.
- You work out a good plea deal. Provided you meet all the terms and conditions of your specific plea deal, you can even keep the DUI case off your criminal record.
It’s difficult to say how you can overturn a negative result in an FST, since each case has got its own particularities. Your attorney will help you articulate the best defense strategy in the DUI case you have to face. However, here are some frequently encountered scenarios:
- There was no probable cause for the police to pull you over. In light of recent police actions against civilians across the U.S., this sounds more and more plausible by the minute.
- Police didn’t respect standard chemical tests procedures. You should know that blood alcohol tests should be performed at least 20 minutes after you get pulled over. Also, BAC and breath test results can easily be contaminated—especially if administered in improper conditions.
- You were not read your Miranda rights. The police have the (minimal) obligation to read you your rights at some point before, during, or at least after you are arrested. A failure to do so directly goes against your Fifth Amendment constitutional rights.
Myth #5: ‘The world’s funniest field sobriety test’ is real!
To leave you on a lighter note, here’s the world’s most famous and hilarious FST caught on camera: the viral Reno 911 sobriety test:
But is it a real test? A lot of us couldn’t do half those tasks while plain sober! Quick, how fast can you recite the alphabet backwards? What about those smokin’ dance moves?
Indeed, as many of you may have already suspected, FSTs are not that silly (we hope…). The segment above is actually a 2003 clip from then popular Comedy Central show Reno 911, which aired from 2003 to 2009.
So, you can rest at ease: while some FSTs are difficult, no one’s likely to have you audition for Michael Flately’s troupe after they pull you over for a suspected DUI.