DWI Lawyer Explains Field Sobriety Tests
I have taken the time and expense to get trained as a Standardized Field Sobriety Test Practitioner. In other words, I’m certified to administer the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) to anyone. I didn’t do this to be the ‘life of the party’, but to know what the officers know and how they try to justify the SFST’s on the road and in court. It helps me to be a better DWI Defense Lawyer for my clients.
In the mid ’70s the Stockton, California city conducted a survey regarding DWI arrests. Thereafter, the Stockton Police started conducting intensive DWI enforcement and recording the results. They tried to develop ‘programs’ to detect intoxicated drivers.
Thereafter, other agencies began conducting studies, which led in time to the creation of the SFSTs by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA). The SFSTs were adopted by every State in the United States, including Texas through the Texas Department of Transportation and the Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.
It is now the goal (and usually the requirement) that every law enforcement officer become certified as a SFST Practitioner. The purpose is to equip the officer to be able to better determine if a citizen is intoxicated.
There are two ways to determine legal intoxication: a ‘scientific’ test (breath or blood) (please see the pages on Breathalyzer Test and Alcohol Blood Test), or the classic standard of ‘having lost the normal use of mental or physical ability’. If the citizen refuses to perform a ‘scientific’ test, the officer must rely totally on the citizen’s appearance and performance on the SFST. It is then an officer’s subjective decision whether the citizen has actually lost the normal use. Therefore, this is the purpose of the SFSTs.
I call the SFSTs the ‘balance tests’, for that is exactly what they are. But they are not fair. Actually, if analyzed, NHTSA designed these tests for failure. (Even by their standards the tests are only 77% accurate. So, about one in four will be a citizen wrongfully arrested.) There is more detail on other pages, but in a nutshell a citizen is required to do abnormal balance functions for the officer to determine the citizen’s normal behavior! While doing the tests, the citizen is required to watch his or her feet. This does two things to one’s internal ‘gyroscope’…sense of balance.
First, by watching his or her feet, the eyes are taken off the horizon, which limits a person’s depth perception, thereby increasing ‘vertigo’, or dizziness.
Second, this same process tilts the head down. Normally, throughout the day, we keep our heads level. Our inner ear has fluid in it to stabilize our ‘vertigo’, or balance. When tilted down, that fluid is ‘upset’, which again increases ‘vertigo’, or imbalance.
There are several other factors which will affect the ‘accuracy’ of these tests which would be better discussed together. Call me and I’ll tell you more about the SFSTs.
I firmly believe every DWI Defense Lawyer should be certified as a SFST Practicioner and know everything about Field Sobriety Tests!