Tennessee DUI Defense Lawyer Attacking the Validity of Field Sobriety Tests

Memphis Drunk Driving Attorney

One of the most controversial components, which often leads to a DUI arrest, is how someone performs during a field sobriety test. These tests are often administered and interpreted incorrectly. If you believe your DUI charges have resulted from a faulty field sobriety test, it is in your best interest to act quickly and retain an attorney who can help you effectively challenge the charges.

When you seek out counsel at the law offices of Patrick E. Stegall, Counselor and Attorney at Law, I will make sure that every aspect of your case is thoroughly explored for any mistakes, errors or effective ways to challenge the prosecutor’s case. Contact me today if you are facing DUI charges and have questions about the validity of your field sobriety test.

Field sobriety tests are tools that police use to judge a person’s physical coordination and ability to follow instructions. If police have a reasonable suspicion to pull you over and then believe that you are under the influence ‘ or impaired, they may request that you submit to this kind of test.

Although a field sobriety test cannot conclusively determine whether a person is intoxicated, they are designed to determine whether the driver’s blood alcohol content is above .10 percent based on certain observable actions performed by the person undergoing the test. Even though a field sobriety test is not a chemical test and does not measure blood alcohol content, police still use it to measure and prove intoxication.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has standardized some types of field sobriety tests. However, these standardized tests must be administered exactly as they are described in the NHTSA manual to insure accuracy. The manual itself points out that failure to administer the tests in the prescribed, standardized manner compromises their validity.

On the other hand, most tests such as finger-to-nose and toe-to-bumper have been determined to be questionable because even sober people have trouble performing them. A field sobriety test can be flawed because poor performance does not necessarily correlate to an impaired ability to drive. For instance, disorientation can come from nervousness or a medical disorder.

Two other common standardized balance tests are the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test. If someone does not have good balance to begin with, they may fail these types of tests without alcohol playing any kind of role.

A third standardized test is the horizontal nystagmus gaze test, where the driver must follow an object such as a pen with their eyes. The belief is that if their eye moves rapidly while following the object, it will indicate intoxication. However, nystagmus as an indicator of intoxication can be unreliable—the nystagmus could result from a natural condition, or as a side effect of certain drugs that are not illegal to take while driving, or from night driving for long periods of time. One state appeals court has recognized 39 non-alcohol-related causes of horizontal gaze nystagmus.

Additionally, symptoms of intoxicant impairment are similar to those symptoms caused by a concussion of the brain, high blood pressure, nerve or muscle injuries, congenital speech disorders or other illnesses. This means if you suffer any of these medical conditions, your actions can easily be mistaken for being intoxicated.

Other factors that can affect the outcome of a field sobriety test include the driver’s age, the type of shoes they were wearing, whether they had any physical injuries or disabilities, and the surface on which the test was performed. None of these factors are alcohol-based, but they may mislead the officer to think that the driver is impaired due to alcohol.

As your DUI lawyer, I will examine and challenge the field sobriety test by analyzing the following:

  • Were the tests that were administered the standardized, federally recognized tests?
  • Were the tests administered properly?
  • Were the instructions clearly given and did the driver understand them?
  • Were any factors present, such as age, physical disability or road condition, that would hamper the driver performing balance tests?
  • Did the driver have a condition or medication that would give them shaky eyes in the nystagmus gaze test?
  • Were the FSTs videotaped?

For more information about field sobriety tests and how to effectively challenge their results, contact me today to set up a free consultation at my Memphis office.