Police officers heavily depend on so-called field sobriety tests when they suspect a driver of being intoxicated. The first thing you should know is that you have a constitutional right enshrined in the 5th amendment
of the US Constitution to refuse the field sobriety test. Furthermore, your failure to take the test may not be used against you at trial. Additionally, unlike a refusal to take a breathalyzer, there are not statutory civil penalties for failing to take a field sobriety test, i.e. you will not lose your license for the refusal.
The appeal of field sobriety tests for law enforcement is clear: Drunk driving is dangerous and law enforcement agencies need easy-to-use, scientifically and legally valid ways of identifying drunkenness. The field sobriety tests that are most commonly used in Massachusetts, however, aren't as reliable as they should be, and are often administered improperly. This means that completely innocent drivers who haven't even had one drink can sometimes be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) recommends three specific tests as the most reliable: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand. The NHTSA says that police officers who use all three tests on a suspected drunk driver have a high chance of making the right call as to whether or not the driver is actually drunk. In what the NHTSA considers the most accurate, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test a police officer asks a driver to follow a small flashlight side to side with his or her eyes. If the driver is drunk, his or her eyeballs shake as they look to the side. The walk-and-turn test is similar to walking a balance beam back and forth on an imaginary straight line. And the one-leg stand involves perhaps the greatest physical challenge: drivers are must stand still with their arms at their sides, raise one leg six inches off the ground while keeping it straight and pointing at their toes, looking at their raised toes, and count forward from 1,001. Swaying, raising arms for balance, hopping, putting the foot down, or starting to count before the police officer instructs are all be viewed as signs of drunkenness.
The scientific basis of field sobriety tests lies in a 35-year-old study of how well field sobriety tests could identify blood alcohol content. That study was conducted with only 238 subjects, mostly men 22-29 years old, and no control group. The Washington Post reported
, "hundreds of thousands of drivers have been arrested -- no doubt many deservedly so -- on the basis of a 30-year-old study that, critics argue, has never been published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, never tested on a large scale with a control group and, perhaps more astonishing, has nothing to do with actual impairment from alcohol."
Besides the tests' scientific faultiness, they can also falsely identify as drunk people who just have medical issues. Balance disorders affect 40% of Americans at some point in their lives, and dizziness and vertigo are the third leading cause for visits to doctors. The older you get, and the heavier you get, the worse your balance. For an aging population with a growing number of overweight and obese people, the one-leg stand test sounds like a pretty ineffective gauge of whether someone is drunk. The CDC reports
that by 2030 42% of the US population will be obese.
If you have been arrested or charged with Operating Under the Influence you need a criminal attorney who knows, how to point out the scientific problems with both the field sobriety test, the breathalyzer, and the administration of those tests in your case. If you would like a free consultation on your case, contact
the Law Office of Isaac J. Mass
. Attorney Mass’ Greenfield office is located the heart of Franklin County, a block from the Greenfield district court. Attorney Mass represents clients with criminal and civil motor vehicle offenses throughout Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire Counties as well as across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Attorney Mass is a featured speaker at driving schools in western Massachusetts.