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How reliable are the results of field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | Sep 27, 2022 | DUI

Police officers often suspect impairment when they first initiate a traffic stop. They will try to gather as much information as they can from the driver they suspect to corroborate their suspicions. While chemical breath tests can be compelling evidence in impaired driving cases, police officers need probable cause to ask someone to perform a breath test.

Officers may conduct field sobriety tests as a way to confirm someone’s likely chemical impairment and also justify their request for a breath test. How reliable are field sobriety tests?

There are numerous tests, and not all of them hold up in court

The exact field sobriety tests an officer administers will depend on the jurisdiction and the officer’s training. Currently, there are three standardized tests, but there are many other tests that individual officers may employ during traffic stops. The more unusual the test, the easier it may be to challenge the results.

Even the most commonly used tests are fallible. The three standardized tests include the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test. Both of these tests could produce false positive results because of psychological, neurological or physical health concerns. Even the horizontal gaze nystagmus test can produce inaccurate results when someone has certain underlying medical conditions or takes specific medications.

Do you have an alternate explanation?

Often, the most successful challenges related to field sobriety tests come from cases where people can create a reasonable doubt by providing their own explanation for their performance on the test. Medical records could be of particular use for those hoping to challenge a drunk driving arrest by questioning the results of a field sobriety test.

Other times, you could review the police bodycam or dashcam footage to challenge the way the officer describes your performance on the test. They may have jumped to conclusions instead of listening as you explained why you performed so poorly. If you plead guilty because you think you can’t challenge the test results, you could lose your license and face numerous criminal consequences. Even when a police officer claims you failed field sobriety tests, you may still be able to avoid a criminal conviction.

Looking into all of your options will help you fight back against pending drunk driving charges.