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4 reasons why field sobriety tests can be unreliable

On Behalf of | Jan 31, 2024 | Drunk Driving Charges |

Obviously, driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense, and law enforcement agencies employ various methods to determine if a driver is impaired.

One common practice is the administration of field sobriety tests (FSTs). While these tests are intended to gauge a person’s level of impairment, there are several reasons why they can be unreliable.

Subjectivity of FSTs

One of the standard FSTs is the Walk-and-Turn Test. In this evaluation, the individual is required to walk a straight line heel-to-toe and turn precisely as instructed. However, factors such as poor weather conditions, uneven surfaces or even nervousness can impact a person’s ability to perform this test accurately. Therefore, the subjective nature of the officer’s judgment introduces an element of uncertainty.

Physical limitations and health conditions

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test involves tracking an object with the eyes, looking for involuntary jerking movements. While alcohol consumption can indeed cause nystagmus, certain medical conditions or medications may produce similar effects. A person with natural nystagmus or neurological issues may display the same symptoms, leading to a false positive during the HGN test.

Lack of standardization in FSTs

Inconsistency in the administration of FSTs among officers within the same department can lead to varying interpretations. The One-Leg Stand Test, for instance, requires balancing on one foot while counting aloud. However, without strict adherence to standardized procedures, the reliability of the results diminishes.

Psychological and environmental factors

Divided attention tests, like the Walk-and-Turn or the One-Leg Stand, aim to assess a person’s ability to multitask – a skill often impaired by alcohol consumption. However, factors such as stress, anxiety or external distractions can also impact performance. Individuals may be unfairly judged as impaired due to external influences rather than intoxication.

While FSTs are widely used in DUI investigations, it’s crucial to recognize their limitations. If you are facing DUI charges based on FST results, consider seeking legal guidance to challenge the validity of these tests. An experienced legal team can highlight the shortcomings and potential inaccuracies associated with field sobriety tests, helping to ensure a fair and just legal process.