Field Sobriety Test | Are They Fair

Interviewer:  Nate, what do you hear from your clients in regards to the field sobriety test? Do most people have the same experience?

Nate:  Typically they do. You sort of have to break it down into how people feel about their performance in terms of relative impairment. If they feel like they were relatively not impaired then they feel like they did relatively well. The problem there is that these tests are very difficult to perform, and they have to be administered in the proper way. A lot of times you see that they’re administered incorrectly, and that leads to false signs of impairment.

Fairness of the Sobriety Tests

Interviewer:  Overall, do you believe that the field sobriety tests are fair?

Nate:  I think you have to break that up into the three individual standardized field sobriety tests. I have a lot of respect for the first test, which is the eye test that people typically refer to. That’s called the HGN or the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test.  I have a lot of respect for indicating signs of impairment if that test is administered correctly.
Unfortunately, with that test what they’re looking for is this involuntary jerking in your eyes as they strobe from left to right. There are a lot of things that will create false positives on that test, the most important one being that this test is typically done in front of a squad car, in‑between the squad car and behind your vehicle if you were the one getting pulled over. A lot of times police officers forget to turn off their forward‑facing red and blue flashing lights.

Countless Distractions and Environmental Factors Affect Field Sobriety Tests

Red and blue flashing lights or any type of strobing light will create the same type of sign or this jerkiness in your eye due to the strobe light effect that they are looking for for impairment. It’s something that could indicate a lot of false positives which could lead to you being deemed impaired when you’re actually not.

The walk and turn test. That’s the one where you take nine steps down a line and back. That test I have a serious issue with. There are 112 clues that police officers are looking for for possible signs of impairment. If you get 110 out of 112 things correct they can still deem that you are impaired. An analogy I always like to use in court is what would happen if your kid came home from school and took a test that they’ve never seen before, didn’t learn before, had no opportunity to prepare for, got a 98.5 percent on it, and then failed the test? That test has a lot of things that can go wrong. It’s one of the more popular things I like to look at in terms of attacking the test.

The last test is the one leg stand. That’s a relativity good test if it’s done correctly and administered correctly.