Challenging a Field Sobriety Test

If you’re pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI/OVI), one of the tools law enforcement officers commonly use to gauge impairment is a series of checks known as field sobriety tests (FSTs). These are standardized physical or cognitive tasks designed to indicate intoxication. Examples include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk-and-Turn Test, and the One-Leg Stand Test.

Understanding FSTs and their potential shortcomings is crucial if you find yourself facing DUI charges. There can be various grounds on which these tests may be challenged in court. 

The following are some of the most common ways to challenge field sobriety tests:

Questioning Officer Training and Conduct

It is important to scrutinize the training and conduct of the officer administering the test. Any discrepancies or lapses can significantly impact the test’s reliability and validity. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Verifying Officer Credentials

One effective strategy is to scrutinize the credentials of the officer who administered the test. Confirm that the officer has received proper training and certification specific to the type of test in question. This can involve obtaining records of the officer’s training, including the dates and institutions where the certifications were received.

Evaluating Test Administration Procedures

Another critical area involves reviewing how the test was administered. Was the officer following standardized procedures accurately? Any deviation from the established protocol can potentially invalidate the test results. This may require a thorough examination of the officer’s actions and adherence to guidelines during the testing process.

Checking for Bias or Misconduct

You should consider the possibility of bias or misconduct. Investigate whether the officer had any previous complaints or incidents of unprofessional behavior. Collecting and presenting evidence of any mistrustful conduct can be pivotal in challenging the test results.

Medical and Physical Defenses

In certain cases, medical and physical conditions can significantly impact the outcome of the test and provide a valid basis for challenging its results. 

A range of medical conditions can impair an individual’s ability to perform field sobriety tests accurately. Conditions such as diabetes, neurological disorders, and ear infections can affect balance, coordination, and cognitive function, all of which are critical in these tests. 

Defense attorneys can introduce medical records and expert testimony to demonstrate how such conditions could reasonably explain poor test performance, undermining the validity of the results obtained.

Physical Limitations and Disabilities

Physical limitations and disabilities are other crucial factors that can invalidate field sobriety test results. Individuals with injuries, chronic pain, or physical disabilities may struggle to perform the physical tasks required by these tests. 

It is essential to consider whether the individual has any physical limitations that could compromise their test results. By presenting evidence of these limitations, defense attorneys can argue that the test results are not a reliable indicator of intoxication.

Impact of Age and Weight

Age and weight can also impact an individual’s performance on field sobriety tests. Older adults may have reduced balance and slower reflexes even in the absence of alcohol consumption. Individuals who are overweight may find it difficult to perform tasks that require physical agility. 

By highlighting these factors, the defense can argue that the arresting officer’s observations are not conclusive proof that the defendant is guilty of OVI.

Medication Interference

The influence of prescribed medication is another critical aspect to examine. Many medications have side effects that can mimic the signs of intoxication, such as dizziness, drowsiness, or lack of coordination. 

Providing documentation of prescribed medications and their known side effects can support the argument that the individual’s test performance was influenced by legal, therapeutic drugs rather than illegal intoxication.

In some cases, these factors can significantly affect the reliability of field sobriety tests, indicating that they are not always an accurate measure of intoxication.

Technical and Procedural Defenses

When accused of driving under the influence, there are multiple technical and procedural defenses that you may explore to potentially mitigate the case against you or even have the charges dismissed.

Equipment Calibration and Maintenance

If any equipment was used during the field sobriety tests, a defense could be raised regarding its proper functioning and calibration. While this concern is more commonly associated with breathalyzer tests, it can equally apply to any technical equipment used during sobriety testing. 

The defense should seek to verify calibration records and maintenance logs to ensure that the equipment was performing accurately at the time of the test. Any discrepancies or failures in proper maintenance could render the test results unreliable and inadmissible.

Another critical point of defense involves the legal rights of the individual subjected to the field sobriety tests. If the defendant was stopped without a legitimate reason, the results of the FSTs might be deemed inadmissible in court

The defense should thoroughly investigate whether the suspect was properly advised of their rights and whether the tests were conducted following legal standards. Any violation could potentially invalidate the evidence gathered from these tests.

Assessing Environmental Factors

Environmental conditions during test administration can also play a role in the validity of the results. Assess factors such as location, weather conditions, and potential contamination or interference. Ensuring that the testing environment met required standards is crucial for upholding the integrity of the test.

By systematically evaluating these aspects, a defendant and their attorney can build a strong case for challenging the test results effectively and professionally.

The Subjective Nature of Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests often rely on subjective observations by the arresting officer. For instance, tests that measure balance, coordination, or eye movements can be influenced by the officer’s perceptions and biases. Highlighting the subjective nature of these assessments can help argue that the results are not conclusive evidence of impairment.

While field sobriety tests are a standard tool in DUI arrests, they are not infallible. Factors such as medical conditions, environmental influences, or even the administering officer’s instructions can influence your performance and potentially lead to an unfair assessment of impairment.

Contact a Dayton DUI Defense Attorney For Help Challenging Field Sobriety Test Results

If you have been subjected to these tests and charged with a DUI offense, it’s wise not to take the results at face value. Instead, consult a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can evaluate the specifics of your case. For help,contact our office Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers to schedule a free consultation with a Dayton DUI defense lawyer. Call us at (937) 531-0435.