Field sobriety tests are designed to help an officer determine if a suspect is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but like any test, its reliability depends on the person administering the test. If the officer fails to conduct the tests in a clear and accurate manner, the results of the test may be flawed. In today’s blog, we take a look at some common mistakes that police make during the three most common field sobriety tests, and we explain how we challenge the validity of test results when cops err in administering the tests.
Common Mistakes During Roadside Tests
Here’s a look at three common roadside tests and how cops can screw up administering these tests:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test is designed to look for rapid, involuntary movement in a driver’s eyes, something that can occur when you’ve reached a certain level of alcohol impairment. It involves having the driver follow the officer’s finger that is being moved in different directions by the officer in order to see how your eyes move when tracking a target.
How Cops Screw It Up – Cops need to move their finger at the right speed, otherwise a person can fail because they are trying to track such a fast moving object. Drivers can also show signs of nystagmus if the officer’s finger is too close or too far from their face (ideally 12-15 inches from face), or if they make curved motions instead of straight movements with their finger. Police are advised to make at least 14 passes in order to accurately gauge the suspect, and this takes well over a minute. If the officer tries to complete it using a couple passes in 30 seconds, the results will be flawed.
One Leg Stand – As the name implies, this test involves standing and balancing on one leg. Officers are looking to see if the person can maintain their balance with their arms at their side for a set portion of time.
How Cops Screw It Up – This test isn’t all that reliable because it can be difficult for a sober person to maintain one-footed balance with their arms at their side for a given period of time. It can also be flawed if you’re conducting it on snow, ice, on sloped ground, in certain shoes or in any weather that could inhibit your ability to maintain your balance.
Walk and Turn – During the walk and turn test, a driver is asked to take a certain number of steps, pivot on one foot and walk back to the officer. They are looking to see if the driver can perform these specific actions while keeping their balance.
How Cops Screw It Up – There are many potential flaws to the walk and turn test. For starters, if the officer isn’t clear in their instructions, or if they give misleading information when explaining the test, a driver can accidentally perform the test incorrectly despite their best efforts. Since most people have little to no experience hearing the demands and correctly performing the actions, it’s not surprising to learn that many sober individuals struggle with the test the first time they try it. Other personal impairments, like health conditions and memory issues, alongside officer perception bias, can make this test an easy one to accidentally fail.
If you’ve received a DUI in part because of a failed field sobriety test, reach out to Avery Appelman and his team. We’ll review the footage and see if there were errors in the administration of the tests. For more information, or to get in contact with our office, give us a call at (952) 224-2277.