Whenever discussing what to do during traffic stops, San Diego DUI attorney Peter M. Liss always urges clients to refuse to do any form of field sobriety test as they are not legally required and will only serve to provide police with more evidence against you. Here’s everything you should know about field sobriety tests and California law.
The reason field sobriety tests are optional is because they are not accurate. In ideal conditions, properly trained officers performing the tests correctly still can only properly identify drunk drivers only 90% of the time. That means that one driver out of ten could be falsely identified as under the influence -and that’s in a perfect world. In practice, the accuracy of field sobriety tests drops significantly. In fact, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (aka, the follow a pen with your eye test) is over 88% accurate, a study of officers conducting the test showed that at least 95% of police perform the test improperly.
Even assuming an officer properly performs a test, the real world is rarely as neat and tidy as a laboratory. A person with a physical handicap in the legs/feet (or even a person in poor footwear) will often fail both the walk-and-turn test and the one-legged stand test. The walk-and-turn test requires someone to memorize and execute a set of directions that is difficult for many people with memory problems to handle. Many eyesight problems will make a person fail the horizontal gaze nystagmus test every time. Additionally, roadside conditions including traffic, bright lights, bad weather, uneven walking surfaces, loose gravel, etc. can make these tests impossible for even the most ideal subject.
A San Diego DUI defense lawyer who can demonstrate how inaccurate they are and why any given specific test performed on site would not even live up to the 90% accuracy claimed by the NHTSA. Unfortunately, most people only become knowledgeable about field sobriety tests after a DUI arrest so it is understandable that most individuals are pressured into doing them. Your lawyer can show the determination of whether you pass or fail the sobriety tests is subjective and left to the determination of the officer. Unlike like just about any other test where a 70% is passing, police officers determine whether you pass or not based purely on opinion, not on any numerical percentage. Even under the best of circumstances, a sober person under pressure probably would not pass these tests.
If you do find yourself pulled over after learning about the inaccuracies of these tests, remember that the reality is that by the time police ask you to take field sobriety tests, they have almost already made up their minds that you are intoxicated. They really just ask you to take the tests so they have additional evidence against you. In fact, even if you haven’t been drinking and pass the breathalyzer, these tests can still be used as evidence that you were intoxicated through the use of drugs. Additionally, the results can be used as evidence against you in your DMV license hearing as well. The best course of action is to always refuse to take these tests.
If you have any questions about field sobriety tests, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule an appointment with top San Diego DUI lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image by Oregon Department of Transportation