How might field sobriety tests be misinterpreted?

Field sobriety tests rely on the judgment of a police officer. There are many ways this type of test can be inaccurate.

Summer activities may be winding down, but with the upcoming fall and winter holidays, there will be plenty of reasons for people to enjoy drinks with friends. Because the holiday season means an increase in drinking and driving, authorities in New York will be on the alert for anyone who appears to be driving while intoxicated.

One of the ways that police officers check drivers for signs of intoxication is by conducting field sobriety tests. These tests do not involve collecting samples for a chemical result of alcohol in the bloodstream. They may save time and waiting for laboratory results and therefore be more convenient for officers. However, since they rely on an officer's personal judgment, many say that field sobriety tests are often inaccurate, and a sober person could be falsely arrested for drunk driving.

Definition of a field sobriety test

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, field sobriety tests include numerous standardized exercises that may indicate to an officer that the driver has been drinking. These tests include walking in a straight line, standing on one leg and looking into a flashlight for the officer to detect movements of the eyes that are common during intoxication. The tests rely on a subject's ability to understand and follow directions. The officer may also look for patterns of speech, behavior or appearance that appear suspicious.

In an experiment reported by NBC 29 News, three sober people at a shopping center agreed to take a field sobriety test to see how difficult it was to pass. Each of them passed, but all said that they understood how it could be easy to fail, based on a number of factors. Two of the subjects had difficulty balancing, and the third had trouble following directions. They also agreed that someone could easily fail the test during a real traffic stop and be accused of a crime if they are under pressure and nervous.

Situations that might contribute to a false positive

According to ABC Action News, numerous conditions may either resemble intoxication to officers or cause a person to fail a field sobriety test. These include the following:

  • An injury or disability that makes it difficult to walk or balance
  • Natural problems with balancing
  • A speech impediment or neurological condition
  • Fatigue or medication that causes red or swollen eyes
  • General nervousness, social awkwardness or fear of authorities
  • Confusion or hesitation when asked to perform any part of the test

When one is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, it is important to contact an experienced defense attorney in Williamsville. An attorney may be able to have some charges reduced or dropped based on evidence, the manner in which a sobriety test is conducted and other factors.

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