Field Sobriety Tests: Designed for Failure?
Information courtesy of Lawrence Taylor - DUIblog
Roadside field sobriety tests ("FSTs") are commonly used by police officers in DUI investigations to determine whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol. Typically, they consist of a battery of 3-5 excercises, such as walk-and turn, one-leg stand, "nystagmus" ("follow the pencil with your eyes"), finger-to-nose, alphabet recitation, "Rohmberg" (eyes-closed-position-of-attention), etc. The officer may subjectively decide whether the individual "failed", or he may decide after applying recent federal "standardized" scoring.
These DUI tests have an aura of scientific credibility. Unfortunately, however, they have no real basis in science and are almost useless in a drunk driving case. First, as any traffic officer or DUI attorney knows, the decision to arrest is made at the drivers window; the FSTs given supposedly to determine probable cause to arrest are actually for the purpose of gathering evidence. Second, since the officer has already made up his mind, his subjective decision as to whether a person passed or failed field sobriety tests is suspect: as with any human, he will "see" what he expects to see. Third, the conditions under which the field sboriety tests are taken almost guarantee failure: usually late at night, possibly cold, along a graveled or sloped roadside, with bright headlights from passing cars (setting up wind waves), the officers flashlight and patrol cars strobe and headlights providing the lighting -- and given to a person who is nervous, frightened and completely unfamiliar with the tests.
Fourth, field sobriety tests are irrelevant and, in fact, designed for failure.
What scientific basis exists to validate FSTs in a DUI investigation? Only a "study" by a private business firm, the "Southern California Research Institute", with a grant from the federal government to find a "standardized" battery of usable DUI tests. To earn their money, SCRI came up with three tests which, they said, were not foolproof but were much better than all of the other FSTs that were being used. Yet after some study even this company concluded that, using the three standardized tests, 47 percent of the subjects tested