The Unreliability of Field Sobriety Tests

Posted by William Bly | Oct 09, 2015 | 0 Comments

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If a police officer sees you driving, and suspects that you're operating your vehicle under the influence – called an OUI, in Maine – he or she will pull your car over to the side of the road and begin looking for evidence that you're drunk. There are three different ways that a police officer often goes about searching for this evidence:

  1. Interacting with you and looking for visible signs of intoxication,
  2. Having you take a breathalyzer test,
  3. Giving you field sobriety tests.

The field sobriety tests used by police in Maine involve following detailed instructions, and multi-tasking. These field sobriety tests, however, are far from scientifically perfect. While it's unclear exactly how accurate these tests are, the one that's widely regarded as the most accurate, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, is only correct 77% of the time. And this figure is provided by the National Highway Traffic Administration, one of the government organizations that has an interest in keeping the roads safe, and catching drunk drivers.

If one of the organizations that has a vested interest in field sobriety tests can only claim that they're accurate less than 4 out of 5 times, then field sobriety tests can pose a problem for sober drivers.

There are several reasons why field sobriety tests have such a low success rate.

One of the reasons is that they're difficult to conduct properly. Even police officers with the proper training can make a mistake setting up the test, or see clues that you're intoxicated when they're not really there.

Another reason why field sobriety tests are inaccurate is that they're easily manipulable by the police officer conducting them. If the officer has had a bad day, or wants to boost their arrest numbers, or just doesn't like you, they can structure a field sobriety test to make it much more difficult for you to pass. For example, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test requires you to focus on a pen, held up by the police officer. By standing with their back to oncoming traffic, a police officer can make it more difficult to pass the test, because cars moving in the background can be distracting.

Finally, some field sobriety tests are physically demanding. If you're clumsy or out-of-shape it can be difficult to stand on one leg for 30 seconds, but this is what's required in the One Leg Stand Test. Not being physically gifted can mean failing a field sobriety test and being arrested for OUI.

Field sobriety tests are another way for police to find drunk drivers, but they're far from perfect, and also get a lot of false positives. If you've been arrested and charged for OUI, and failed a field sobriety test during the traffic stop, you'll need an experienced OUI defense attorney to fight against the field sobriety evidence in court. Contact the law office of William T. Bly, one of Maine's premier OUI defense attorneys, at (207) 571-8146, or contact him online.

About the Author

William Bly

William T. Bly, Esq. is a graduate of Rutgers College where he majored in Political Science with a minor in U.S. History. Attorney Bly attended and graduated the University of Maine School of Law. During his time in law school, Attorney Bly focused on criminal defense.

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