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Why field sobriety tests are so problematic

On Behalf of | Jul 20, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

There are two main tools that police officers in California use to determine if someone is impaired. The first is a breath test. There are both portable breath tests that some officers may carry and full Breathalyzer systems that are usually administered at the police station. Either way, this just measures the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the individual.

The second tool that officers will use is a set of field sobriety tests. These tests can be given out to show if someone is impaired without actually measuring their alcohol levels. These may be used by officers to justify an arrest, and then a breath test will be given out afterward.

But, even though these field sobriety tests are so commonly used, they’re somewhat controversial. Why are these cast in such a problematic light?

They could be difficult to pass in controlled circumstances

The issue, some claim, is that the tests are simply hard to pass. Two of the most common tests are the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test. The driver may be asked to walk to a certain point, turn around, and come back to the officer. They could also be asked to simply balance on one leg for a set amount of time, perhaps while counting the seconds.

If it was the middle of the day and you were in a wide-open gymnasium, there’s still the chance that you would trip doing the walk-and-turn or lose your balance while standing on one leg. You could be completely sober and absolutely fail that test.

And that’s in a controlled environment. Now take into account that you may be doing these tests on the side of the road. If you’ve been pulled over at night, it may be dark and visibility could be quite low. If you’re near traffic, there could be all sorts of distractions from cars and trucks going by. Plus, you may be feeling on edge from dealing with the police, and there could also be more distractions from weather events like wind, rain or fog.

In other words, someone could be very sober and still fail a field sobriety test when it matters most. This could lead to their arrest and suspected impairment. If you do find yourself in this situation, you absolutely need to know about all of your defense options.