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Are field sobriety test results reliable evidence?

People fear drunk driving traffic stops not only because they worry about getting arrested. Many people fear the embarrassment of needing to perform a series of field sobriety tests on the side of the road.

There are three standardized field sobriety tests that police officers might administer to gauge someone’s level of impairment and justify the decision to arrest them. Prosecutors may then point to those test results as proof of chemical intoxication during drunk driving trials.

Are field sobriety test results reliable forms of evidence for criminal cases?

There may be reasons to question test results

Those who know that they failed field sobriety tests may feel incredibly anxious. They might even propose entering a guilty plea because they assume that the prosecutor can secure conviction based solely on their test performance. However, there are a variety of scenarios in which field sobriety test results may be unreliable or may be inadmissible during trial.

If an officer has someone perform field sobriety tests of their own creation, those non-standardized tests may not produce usable evidence. Typically, the three tests that the courts accept are the one-leg stand test, the walk-and-turn test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Any other unique tests may not produce verifiable and credible scientific evidence of intoxication.

Additionally, the current standard for field sobriety tests includes having video footage of test administration. If a police officer administers the test away from where their dashboard camera captures footage, then the officer’s testimony might be the only proof of someone’s poor performance on that test. It may be possible to have the courts set the test results aside when there isn’t video footage to corroborate an officer’s claims.

Medical explanations could also raise questions about the reliability of field sobriety test results. Those with neurological conditions, medical challenges that affect their mobility or mental health disorders are among those who might have false positive results on field sobriety tests.

Finally, it is worth noting that some field sobriety test results are inadmissible because the police officer conducted an illegal traffic stop. People can show that an officer did not have a reasonable justification to pull them over in the first place, their lawyer could prevent the state from using any evidence gathered during that traffic stop during the trial.

Realizing that feeling a field sobriety test does not automatically lead to a conviction could inspire people to fight back against drunk driving charges. Seeking personalized legal guidance is a good way to get started.