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Roadside sobriety tests may not stand up in court

Field sobriety tests are those seemingly simple roadside stunts police sometimes ask you to do at traffic stops.

You might think they’re aimed at finding out if you’re driving while intoxicated, but the tests are not what they seem to be.

In truth, police use field sobriety tests to look for reasons they can use (probable cause) to arrest you.

A qualified defense attorney can often see weaknesses in a DWI case and use them to try get the charges reduced or dismissed. The complexities of field sobriety tests are a good example of what a lawyer might look for.

The case against field sobriety tests

Three field sobriety tests are used most often. In fact, together they’re known as the standardized filed sobriety testing protocol.

The standard protocol is controversial for a lot of reasons:

  • Its first test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, is not unlike an eye exam given by an officer on the roadside and is hardly as reliable as one done by a doctor in a medical office.
  • Its next two tests (Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg-Stand) involve you doing multiple things at once. The tests are hard for almost everyone to perform flawlessly, especially in a stressful situation.
  • In highly simplified experiments, the tests are poor at telling sobriety from intoxication.
  • As sobriety tests, they perform more poorly in real-world traffic stops due to weather and lighting, as well as injuries, old age, mental and physical conditions and the skills of both the suspect and officer.
  • Giving the tests is also complex for the officer. Officers make mistakes.
  • People who train officers to give the tests also make mistakes. The quality, frequency and conditions during officer training vary.

All these weaknesses can call into question an officer’s decision to arrest you. That is, each might become a basis for challenging probable cause. But it will take know-how and experience to gather information and make arguments needed to improve your outcome.

Your legal rights are never on vacation

The so-called sobriety tests that often help lead to DWI arrests make it easy to see how legal advice can matter. A good attorney will know how to seek out and use the specifics of your case.

If you’re charged with DWI, contact an attorney as soon as possible to take the next step to protect your rights.

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