Exposing 18 Field Sobriety Test Myths about Reliability
Every year, over 1 million motorists in the United States are asked to perform the field sobriety tests by a law enforcement officers. Almost no citizens, except DUI lawyers who are specialists in the field of drunk driving defense, know the information posted here. All Americans need to know their rights to NOT self-incriminate.
With any DUI investigation in America, it will be helpful to be familiar with this list of 18 great myths about the questionable use by police of the so-called “3 test battery” of field sobriety tests. These roadside evaluations are also known as the “standardized field sobriety tests” among criminal defense attorneys who are specialists in DUI defense.
Police officers making DUI arrests are trained to BELIEVE that these evaluations PROVE impairment, when they do not. Police personnel have been marginally trained to administer these evaluations, but top GA DUI lawyers know that over 90% of officers cannot follow the mandatory medical clearance steps, instructions, and grading mandated by NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration). Yet, thousands of reported appeals have upheld DUI convictions even when officers are inept at properly administering the non-medical, and non-reliable tests.
These divided attention “exercises” and psycho-physical eye tests were created from a federally-funded study, where researchers were asked to find SOME method of helping officers make better arrest decisions of citizens accused of drunk driving at roadside pullover or at DUI checkpoints. The fact that NHTSA promoted use of the SFST battery, or that the police are allowed to use these does NOT mean that the tests are reliable, or scientific.
Due to television programs about DUI arrests, and lack of knowledge of our legal rights, the overwhelming majority of American citizens BELIEVE they MUST TAKE field sobriety tests, which is 100% INCORRECT. This lack of knowledge leads hundreds of thousands of drunk driving suspects each year to inadvertently participate in this deception of the driving public by law enforcement, which (in turn) is instrumental in causing hundreds of thousands of false DUI convictions of our citizens, both young and old, each year in the United States.
Once the 18 most common myths are revealed and dispelled below, the uselessness and danger of submitting yourself to a police officer’s subjective sobriety “evaluation,” with a DUI arrest being the likely outcome, will be apparent.
Myth No. 1: There is a field sobriety test law that requires me to submit to the officer’s requested sobriety test. (Not true in any state under DUI law).
Myth No. 2: Police are using NHTSA field sobriety tests for marijuana. (No. The NHTSA tests are for alcohol only).
Myth No. 3: Field sobriety tests are reliable. (Not true. Independent studies show high error rates on all three sobriety tests).
Myth No. 4: Field sobriety tests are “scientific.” (The scientific method is not followed).
Myth No. 5: A field sobriety test is correlated to driving impairment. (Zero proven correlation to a drinking driver’s ability to drive, and were very poorly correlated to guessing the detained driver’s legal drinking limit).
Myth No. 6: The HGN test has been standardized for both alcohol and drugs. (False. It was studied for only its correlation to what percentage of people showed a given number of “clues” on field test exercises and were at or above the legal alcohol limit for alcohol, which was 0.10 grams percent at the time).
Myth No. 7: Field sobriety testing will prove I am not impaired. (Most states allow the jury to see and hear it all, and decide guilt. And who knows what a jury will do).
Myth No. 8: A field sobriety test is not admissible in court. (All states allow field test evidence to determine probable cause to arrest for DUI, and most let the jury also hear officer testimony that will vouch for the reliability of all field test evidence).
Myth No. 9: I will be let go after passing a field sobriety test. (Not necessarily. The officer’s next questions are about your prescription drug use – “fishing” for a DUI drugs arrest).
Myth No. 10: My age makes no difference in the likelihood I’ll pass a sobriety test. (Simply by being over 40, you will fail 50% or more, just due to aging, according to a 2009 British study of field sobriety tests).
Myth No. 11: My weight makes no difference in my chances of successfully performing field sobriety exercises. Almost no fat people can do either the walk and turn (WAT) or one leg stand (OLS). It is the same reason that you don’t see fat people in the Olympics for gymnastics.
Myth No. 12: I can call my DUI lawyer before taking the field sobriety tests.
Myth No. 13: Field sobriety test “certification” means that the police officer followed all protocols. Not true. The test is reviewed right before officers have to take it --- every question --- and 70% is passing. Yet, some officers STILL fail the test.
Myth No. 14: If I do not participate in the field sobriety tests, I will be arrested automatically. (Maybe arrested, but not convicted).
Myth No. 15: Because I think I passed the field sobriety tests, I cannot be convicted. (A jury decides, not you).
Myth No. 16: NHTSA is a government agency, and my government would not sanction the use bogus tests to arrest me.
Myth No. 17: Field sobriety test scoring, by police, is similar to school and 70% is passing. (The WAT and OLS tests require 95% or better performance, when analyzed on the possible number of “errors” for these two sobriety tests). WAT has 76 possible errors, OLS has 122 possible errors, and only 0 errors or 1 error is a “passing” score on either test.
Myth No. 18: The ABC test is an approved NHTSA standardized field sobriety test. (It is not, and never has been. An alphabet test, usually a partial alphabet test like “start at C and stop at X” to make sure that you fail it, is thrown in by police on a mission to collect harmful video evidence to convict you. NHTSA’s own study in 1977 showed that simply being asked to repeat all 26 letters in sequence, without singing, was done incorrectly by over 50% of adults who had nothing to drink).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William C. Head
William C. “Bubba” Head is a defense attorney with 40 years of criminal litigation. The Atlanta DUI attorney has authored or co-authored over a dozen books on criminal law, & is Board Certified by the ABA in DUI Defense. More than 20 years ago, the DUI specialist started the National College for DUI Defense, and launched national DUI lawyer training for field sobriety tests and breath alcohol testing. An expert on GA DUI laws, he is nationally known for DUI defense.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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