Santa Barbara DUI Lawyers hear time and again from clients arrested for their Santa Barbara DUI, “but I passed the field sobriety tests.” The question and answer lies in not whether the clients actually passed, but are these tests really pass/fail?
In an interesting article a reporter stands in the shoes of these clients on the pass/fail dilemma. In Lancaster, Pa. the news reporter undertook the task of drinking and performing field sobriety tests during a training exercise for local police. In his article the reporter explains, “I was volunteer-drinking for local cops training on DUI, I had to be legally drunk to take the field-sobriety tests, conducted by 22 area officers in training.” So the stage was set to test the tests (the field sobriety tests). “In all, I sloshed 10 cans of beer and a shot of Jagermeister over four-and-a-half hours to reach a .119-percent reading on the Breathalyzer,” the reporter said. So will this reporter also believe he passed the field sobriety tests?
He was subjected to a battery of three sobriety tests. The report describes the tests as “walk and turn, one leg stand, and follow the pen. The tests the reporter described are not your run of the mill field sobriety tests, rather they are known as “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.” The “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” are same three tests an alleged Santa Barbara drunk driver would/should likely be asked to perform. The tests are not unique to a DUI Santa Barbara style, nor unique to a DUI Lancaster style. In fact “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” were developed by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), and set out to develop SFSTs (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests) to be used by law enforcement uniformly across the country, and presently these SFSTs are used in all 50 states according to NHTSA.
What are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (used is a Santa Barbara DUI)
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are not just crazy roadside sobriety tests like the good ole reciting the alphabet backwards. Rather, research began in 1975, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to explore and standardize sobriety tests being used by law enforcement. In the following years the dawn of these Standardized Field Sobriety Tests came to be, which included standardized procedures for test administration and scoring
What are the specific Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
The SFST battery is composed of three tests:
1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN),
2. Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and
3. One-Leg Stand (OLS).
So how did the reporter do on these tests?
In the Walk-and-Turn test, the subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for eight indicators of impairment: if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, begins before the instructions are finished, stops while walking to regain balance, does not touch heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms to balance, makes an improper turn, or takes an incorrect number of steps. (http://www.nhtsa.gov)
The reporters article says, “Walk heel-to-toe in a straight line and count your steps while you’re doing it,” the officer commanded. One, two, three…. Easy enough. Until the turn, when my fellow volunteers and I often did pirouette-like maneuvers back toward the officer. Aside from that, I stayed straight and counted in proper order. My drunken state, according to the officers, wasn’t overly obvious.”
In the One-Leg Stand test, the suspect is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down. (http://www.nhtsa.gov)
Next, I was to raise one leg off the ground while counting aloud. I made it through my Mississippi’s all the way to 30 for every test, but one, when I had to drop my raised leg too early. There was some swaying, the officers told me, but this test alone wasn’t going to put me in the back of a police cruiser in a pair of silver bracelets. Most of the training officers needed a more incriminating indicator.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
The reporter referred to this test as the “follow the pen.” In the HGN test, the officer observes the eyes of a suspect as the suspect follows a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight, horizontally with his or her eyes. The examiner looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye: if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center. (http://www.nhtsa.gov).
The report said, “and this is where they got it. I had carefully counted steps, and steadied myself for the one-leg stand. But, I couldn’t control my eyes. As each officer moved a pen horizontally in and out of my peripheral vision, my eyes tried to keep up. They failed to. This, according to the training officers, is often the biggest tell from a drunk driver. There is a natural tendency for your eyes, if intoxicated, to jerk while sliding side-to-side.“Like windshield wipers going across a dry windshield,” an instructor told me. Also, following the pen revealed the whites of my eyes — which on this afternoon were blood-shot from my many hours of drinking.”
The reporter answers the question of “but I passed the field sobriety tests,” in what he called the verdict. “Nearly all of the cops who took me through the tests said they would have arrested me, had I been driving. Only one said I concealed my stupor altogether. The four volunteers drinking with me didn’t fare much better. Three of them would’ve been arrested by all the training officers. The fourth, a man about my age and size, eluded three of the officers, despite his .095-percent BAC.”
The Importance of Standardization
The validity of SFST results is dependent upon practitioners following the established, standardized procedures for test administration and scoring. Variations from ideal conditions, and deviations from the standardized procedures, might affect the evidentiary weight that should be given to test results.
However, it is possible for SFST skills to degrade if they are not exercised regularly (e.g., during a prolonged absence from patrol work). Also, the SFST procedures have evolved since they were first developed in 1981. Modifications to the standardized procedures could result in an officer administering SFSTs according to outdated protocols. For these reasons, NHTSA recommends that law enforcement agencies conduct refresher training for SFST instructors and practitioners.
As a Santa Barbara DUI Attorney I deal with this “pass/fail” question routinely. These tests are not a pass/fail, rather an objective tool for law enforcement to use when determining whether to arrest. Where the problems arise is when the tests are conducted not following the established, standardized procedures for test administration and scoring.
The problem is exasperated by subjective administration and scoring, and compounded by the attempts to deem the test results as evidence of impairment, when there are designed solely sound potential indicators of possible impairment, but not actual impairment. It seems that unless a Santa Barbara DUI Lawyer has a client that can score an Olympic perfect “10,” the client is assumed “impaired.” Hog Wash! What do you think? What do you think these countless people who say, “but I passed the field sobriety tests.” Is it possible they are very wrong or very correct?
If you’ve been arrested for a Santa Barbara DUI, you should speak to a Santa Barbara DUI Lawyer. Know your rights, options, and defenses when facing a Santa Barbara DUI . Call Santa Barbara Attorney Kenneth M Hallum, 805-564-3101. There is no charge for a consultation.
About Santa Barbara DUI Attorney Kenneth M. Hallum:
As a DUI defense attorney, Kennnth Hallum is dedicated to an understanding of the art and science of California DUI defense with memberships in the California DUI Lawyers Association, the National College of DUI Defense, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the California Public Defenders Association, and the State Bar of California.