Field sobriety test accuracy disputed

Field sobriety tests are regularly used by officers to determine if a person was drinking and driving. These tests are not always accurate.

There are many ways that South Carolina law enforcement attempts to determine if a person has been driving drunk. A police officer may request that a driver use a breath machine to measure the alcohol in the driver's breath. A blood or urine test may also be taken. These tests are more accurate and scientific than traditional field sobriety tests. However, field sobriety tests are still regularly conducted. Unfortunately, there are numerous ways for a sober person to fail a field sobriety test.

A South Carolina driver in this situation may face potential drunk driving charges that could result in severe penalties, including the negative consequences of a criminal record. If you find yourself in these circumstances, it is imperative to protect your rights and liberty. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at Aaron & Aaron to launch a vigorous defense on your behalf.

What are field sobriety tests?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, field sobriety tests do not analyze a driver's breath, blood or urine to measure intoxication. Instead, a police officer makes a personal judgment based on the behavior and appearance of a driver during a series of tests that often include:

  • Walk-and-turn requires a driver to walk in one direction along a straight line, then turn around and walk back.
  • One-leg stand requires the driver to stand on one leg and count without putting the other foot down.
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus measures the driver's eye movements, which may be more pronounced during intoxication.

During each of these tests, the driver will be observed for signs of intoxication, which may include losing balance, falling, using the arms to balance, losing count and failing to follow or understand directions. An officer may also consider the driver's speech patterns, scent and appearance to judge if the person may have been driving drunk.

Are these tests accurate?

According to NBC 29 News, the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand are only accurate 77 percent, 68 percent and 65 percent of the time, respectively. In many cases, police officers inaccurately judge a driver's behavior, or they are not properly trained to interpret a subject's performance.

As part of building a defense, the lawyers of Aaron & Aaron in Clemson, South Carolina, will review the circumstances surrounding police administration of field sobriety tests as well as of breathalyzers and other chemical tests for alcohol to be sure proper protocol was followed.

Are there ways a sober person might fail?

Failing a DUI test despite having consumed nothing alcoholic may be easy for some. According to ABC Action News, people with difficulty balancing may have problems during the one-leg stand and walk-and-turn. The same is true for those who are unable to walk very far or have difficulty moving due to injuries, obesity, health impairments or age. If someone has a speech impediment, that impairment could be mistaken as intoxication. Red eyes from allergies or fatigue could be falsely attributed to drunkenness. It is also possible that a nervous or confused driver could fail to follow the instructions of any portion of a test.

Those who are facing drunk driving charges have the right to fair treatment by law enforcement, by the prosecution and in court. Of course, anyone charged with drunk driving after a test should immediately seek legal representation. The DUI attorneys at Aaron & Aaron regularly advocate for clients under suspicion of drunk driving throughout the Western Piedmont region.

Aaron & Aaron will conduct an investigation of the circumstances, communicate and negotiate with authorities, and advocate fiercely in court, if necessary.