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Why Field Sobriety Tests Aren’t Accurate

Imagine this scene: Let’s say a woman goes to dinner with an old friend. When the server opens the champagne it spouts like a volcano, getting her fancy, fitted dress damp. It’s a pretty funny fiasco and she laughs so hard she cries.

On the way home on an otherwise deserted street she rolls through a stop sign. She sees the flashing lights behind her. Because she knows she isn’t drunk and wants to prove it she agrees to take a field sobriety test.

The officer first asks her to stand on one leg. It’s difficult in her heels and in a fitted dress, but she does it, wobbling slightly.

The officer next asks her to walk and turn and he demonstrates, counting out nine steps. She understands and, anxious to get home, she starts the test just after he turns to come back to her. She takes nine heel-to-toe steps, wobbles, takes one more step to right herself and turns to walk back to him. Her heels slip on the small rocks at the edge of the road forcing her to use her arms for balance.

The officer next flashes his light in her eyes then turns his flashlight off. He holds his finger about a foot from her nose and moves it from side to side, telling her to follow his finger with her eyes. She blinks several times since her eyes are still out of focus from him shining his light at her.

Did she pass? Chances are she did not. But in his report the officer indicates he smelled alcohol, that she wobbled when walking and lost her balance, did not follow directions and that her eyes were bloodshot.

Field sobriety tests are commonly used as factors to determine guilt or innocence yet they are far from accurate. In fact, most research puts their accuracy at between 65 percent and 77 percent. Not only that but one study found the officer’s error rate for determining a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) was about 47  percent.

If you get pulled over you can refuse to take the sobriety test. If you take the test, as in the case above, and the results lead to your arrest it is in your best interest to consult an attorney.

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