When law enforcement personnel suspect someone of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI), they often conduct a field sobriety test to confirm their suspicions. If the person taking the test is deemed to have failed it, they are arrested. Expert DUI defense attorneys will challenge the field sobriety test results on several fronts, starting with whether the officer conducting the test was a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).
Drug Recognition Expert
The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) began the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program to arrest and convict drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol. Another purpose of this program is to distinguish between someone who is impaired versus someone who has psychological problems. As part of this program, they created a comprehensive training process for law enforcement officers to assure that the tests are performed systematically and are defendable in a court of law.
Field Sobriety Tests
Once a law enforcement officer identifies a suspect as driving under the influence, they will usually conduct a field sobriety test. The type of test used can vary depending on whether the officer believes the suspect has imbibed alcohol or drugs. The NHTSA has established standardized field sobriety tests which include:
- HGN Testing – The officer will ask the suspect to follow an object, such as a pen or light, only with their eyes. When a person is impaired by alcohol, they will have difficulty tracking the object and their pupils will jerk in an exaggerated manner. In addition to alcohol impairment, HGN may also indicate consumption of seizure medications, phencyclidine, a variety of inhalants, barbiturates, and other depressants.
- Walk and Turn – Here the suspect must successfully follow a set of instructions. The subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line then turn and return the same way. The officer is looking for difficulty keeping balance, not touching heel to toe, steps out of line, use of arms for balance, and more.
- Stand on One Leg – In this test, the suspect is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down.
One or more of these tests can be used in a field sobriety test situation and the failure in any can result in a DUI arrest.
Challenging the Field Sobriety Tests
An experienced criminal defense attorney will challenge the results of a field sobriety test from several perspectives:
- Was the officer conducting the Field Sobriety Test a Drug Recognition Examiner? Regardless of whether the officer was correct in his or her findings, if they are not a DRE, they cannot testify as an expert witness.
- The Expert DUI attorney will challenge whether the police officer followed the NHTSA DUI protocol. If the DUI did not follow this protocol, an Expert DUI Attorney can confront and cross-examine him or her should the officer testify in a DUI trial or hearing.
- Did the police officer falsely accuse someone of failing the FSEs when he or she has a disability or medical condition that caused him or her to fail the FSEs? Medical conditions that can cause police officers to falsely accuse someone of DUI are vertigo/balance conditions, back or leg injuries, age related issues, weight issues, diabetes, vision issues, etc.
If you are arrested for DUI and were subjected to FSEs as part of the arrest process, hire an Expert DUI attorney who knows how to successfully challenge each aspect of the DUI arrest process. Board certified criminal defense attorney Ben Stechschulte has represented thousands of clients facing DUI charges and understands how to effectively present these cases to achieve the best possible outcome.