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Issues with field sobriety testing

On Behalf of | Jan 13, 2024 | Criminal

Law enforcement uses field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is under the influence. While accepted, these tests have faced criticism for various reasons.

Several issues cast doubt on the reliability of field sobriety testing. These issues could contribute to inaccurate results.

Subjectivity in evaluation

One major problem with field sobriety tests is their subjective nature. Officers use their judgment, and personal bias can affect judgment. The officer’s experience, mood and preconceived notions may influence the assessment.

Environmental factors

Field sobriety tests are typically conducted in less-than-ideal conditions, such as poorly lit areas or uneven surfaces. These factors can significantly impact an individual’s ability to perform the tests. Slippery roads, windy weather or inadequate lighting may contribute to false indicators of impairment.

Physical and health limitations

Not everyone is physically capable of performing certain field sobriety tests. Individuals with physical disabilities, medical conditions or age-related limitations may struggle to complete the tasks as requested. This raises concerns about the fairness of the tests, as they may disadvantage certain people.

Lack of standardization

While organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration endorse standardized field sobriety tests, there is still room for variation in administration and interpretation. When officers deviate from the standardized procedures, it can lead to doubts about the test’s reliability.

Nervousness and anxiety

Being pulled over by law enforcement can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. Accordingly, anxiety and nervousness can affect an individual’s ability to perform the field sobriety tests accurately. The stress associated with the situation may lead to mistakes that are wrongly attributed to intoxication.

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, law enforcement conducts approximately one million DUI arrests on an annual basis. For these individuals, problems with field sobriety tests can contribute to unfair outcomes.