Daniel Hynes

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Good luck passing a field sobriety test

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Good Luck Passing a Field Sobriety Test

Field sobriety tests frequently used by law enforcement officials to ascertain whether or not a motorist is under the influence of alcohol. In general, these tests consist of 3-5 exercises, like the finger to nose test, one leg stand, heel to toe, alphabet recitation, and so forth. The police officer who administers the test will use their subjective opinion to determine if the suspect passes or fails a test.

To an uneducated jury, these DWI tests seem adequately scientific. In reality, however, these tests have no scientific foundation and, in most DWI cases, are totally useless.

First and foremost, as any NH DWI lawyer or police officer knows, an officer decides “at the window” whether or not he is going to arrest a suspect. What field sobriety tests offer is probable cause to make the arrest by supposedly providing “evidence” to support a police officer’s opinion that someone is drunk.

Secondly, since the police officer has already made a decision regarding guilt, their subjective decision as to whether or not a motorist passed or failed the field sobriety tests is suspect. As most humans would, the officer will see what they suspect.

Third, field sobriety tests should be classified as irrelevant. In fact, they are specifically designed for failure. There is no scientific basis or studies to validate the use of field sobriety tests in a DWI investigation save for a single study by the “Southern California Research Institute”. It bears noting that this study was conducted with a grant from the federal government for the purpose of discovering a usable “standardized” battery of DWI tests.

In order to earn their grant, the researchers at SCRI created three tests, which, in their opinion, were not 100% foolproof, but were much better than the field sobriety tests that were being used at that time. These three tests were nystagmus, one leg stand, and heel to toe. Yet, after continued study, this research facility admitted that, using these three new tests, 47% of their test subjects would have been arrested for DWI – even though their blood alcohol content levels were well below the legal limit.

Unsatisfied with these findings, the federal government requested that SCRI return to the proverbial drawing board. In 1981, SCRI conjured up some better figures. Only 32% of test subjects who failed the tests were completely innocent. This is how SCRI was paid to place their stamp of approval on field sobriety tests.

But how has the not-for-profit scientific community reacted to this nonsense? In 1991, Clemson University conducted a study, led by Dr. Spurgeon Cole, on the accuracy of field sobriety tests. Random individuals were videotaped performing a series of standard sobriety tests. The tapes were then viewed by 14 police officers, and the officers were asked to determine whether or not the “suspects” had had too much alcohol to drive. Unbeknownst to the officers, each one of the subjects was stone cold sober.

The officers decided that 46% of these innocent individuals were too intoxicated to drive. Think of it this way: the field sobriety tests were barely more accurate at discerning intoxication than flipping a coin.

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