Byron Carlson Petri & Kalb, LLC | attorneys at law

The many problems with field sobriety tests

On Behalf of | May 22, 2024 | DUI

Field sobriety tests, such as the walk-and-turn test or the one-leg stand test, have been used by police officers for years. Officers will often have drivers perform these tests if they suspect that the drivers are under the influence. A driver who fails a field sobriety test may be arrested and given a breath test.

However, there are many different problems with field sobriety tests, starting with the fact that they are notoriously unreliable. Police departments have known this for decades. The one-leg stand test is only 65% accurate, for example. Even if an officer uses all three of the main field sobriety tests together, it’s unlikely to be close to 100% accurate. 

The officer is still making a judgment call

The second problem is that field sobriety tests give power to police officers to make arrests based on their own judgment calls. This is much different than making arrests based on factual information.

For example, say that an officer is administering a field sobriety test – in the dark – when the driver trips on a rock on the side of the road. The officer recognizes that it’s just a fluke that the driver tripped and doesn’t count it as evidence of impairment.

But another police officer, in the same situation, decides that they think the driver only tripped because they are impaired. That officer decides to make an arrest.

All of the facts of the case are exactly the same. But whether or not the driver was arrested on drunk driving charges just comes down to which police officer made the traffic stop. 

Defense options 

By allowing police officers to make judgment calls, there will likely be more false arrests. This is one reason why it’s important for those facing charges to understand all of their legal defense options.