Contesting the Field Sobriety Test Results in a DUI
The FST results are often the most critical element of the prosecutor’s case in a DUI. In most cases, the FST results serve as probable cause for the demand of a chemical sample and a subsequent arrest. In some cases, the FST results are also the best evidence of intoxication. As outlined below, the FST results are also the weak link in the state’s case, at least in many cases.
If this evidence is weak, a Tampa DUI attorney can normally obtain a successful result in a case, even if the defendant flunked a chemical test. This positive outcome could be a not guilty verdict at trial, a complete dismissal of charges, or a plea to a lesser included offense. Any one of these outcomes reduces or eliminates the harsh consequences of a DUI conviction.
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has only approved three field sobriety tests, which are examined below, many Hillsborough County peace officers force defendants to perform unapproved tests. Frequently, the real purpose of these tests is to fatigue defendants mentally and physically, so they do not do as well on the tests that count.
Romberg’s balance test (the head back and finger to nose test) is the most common unapproved test. Although a Tampa criminal defense attorney could exclude both the test and results, that’s not always a good idea. On the stand, many officers are unable to communicate the three components of this test to the jury, which are:
- Proprioception (knowing one’s body position in space),
- Vision, and
- Vestibular function (knowing the position of one’s head in space).
If officers did not know what they were looking for when they administered this test, many jurors conclude that the state is trying to railroad the defendant.
Other unapproved tests include reciting part of the alphabet, counting backwards, or answering trick questions like “What was the year of your first birthday?” Ponder that question a minute before you answer it.
The NHTSA-approved FSTs are divided attention tests which require defendants to do two things at the same time. According to many researchers, intoxicated people cannot multitask in this way, because of the way alcohol affects the brain. These three divided attention tests are:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The DUI eye test requires defendants to stand still and track moving objects using only their eyes. If the subject’s pupils move involuntarily at certain angles, the subject probably has nystagmus. The problem with this test is that many people already have nystagmus, a condition also known as lazy eye.
- One Leg Stand: In this test, police officers often claim the defendant “failed” the test because of a minor technicality, like holding the wrong leg up or dropping it a fraction of a second too soon. But the jury also reviews the defendant’s performance and decides who passed and who failed. And, the jury’s conclusion is the only one that counts.
- Walk and Turn: The walking-a-straight-line test is perhaps the signature DUI field sobriety test. The test conditions often directly affect the outcome. It’s almost impossible to walk an imaginary line heel-to-toe, especially if the defendant has any mobility impairments at all. Furthermore, it’s hard to concentrate on unusual walking when there are distractions, such as flashing squadcar lights and cars zooming past.
To drive home these FST flaws, many attorneys partner with researchers who clearly explain them to the jury.
Work With a Dedicated Attorney
Many DUI cases hinge on questionable field sobriety test results. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.