Non Standardized FST
Police investigating a driver for Driving under the Influence (DUI) in California usually conduct field sobriety tests before arresting the driver. These “tests,” which usually take place along a busy street or freeway with cars speeding past, shouldn’t even be called tests because they’re designed to be failed. Their real purpose is to establish probable cause for a drunk-driving arrest and to collect evidence for a court case. A driver subjected to a field sobriety test before being arrested for drinking and driving should contact a California criminal defense lawyer who specializes in successfully defending DUI / DWI cases.
There are two types of field sobriety tests – standardized and non-standardized. Three standardized tests recognized by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test.
Another group of tests are such unreliable indicators of alcohol impairment that they aren’t even recognized by the NHTSA, but are still used by police. These include the Rhomberg balance test, the finger-to-nose test, the finger-tap test, the hand-pat test, the ABCs, the numbers backward test, and coin tricks.
During the ABC test, the officer instructs the driver to recite or write the alphabet while standing with his or her feet together and arms down.
In a finger-tap or finger-count test, the officer directs the driver to extend one hand with the palm facing up, and then touch the tip of each finger to the tip of his or her thumb. The driver must count out loud after each touch, forward and backward, for three sets.
In the finger-to-nose test, the officer instructs the driver to tip his or her head back with eyes closed and touch the index finger to the nose. The officer will instruct the driver to continue touching the left or right index finger to the nose at random.
Hand Pat Test
During the hand pat test, the driver will be directed to extend one hand with the palm up and place the other hand on top, facing palm down. The driver is then instructed to pat the bottom hand with the top hand, while alternating the top hand’s palm position (facing up/facing down between pats). The driver is told to count out loud with each pat.
Numbers Backward Test
During the numbers backward test, the officer directs the driver to wait until the instructions have been completed, then to count from one to 10, then back down to one. Sometimes the driver may be instructed to begin at 100 or 1000 and then to count down until told to stop.
Rhomberg Balance Test
During a Rhomberg balance test, the driver is told to stand with his or her feet together, with head tilted back and eyes closed. The driver must estimate the passage of 30 seconds, then tilt the head forward, open his or her eyes, and say “stop when he or she thinks that 30 seconds have elapsed.”
Results of Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
During these tests, the officer is looking for the following signs the driver is intoxicated: starting the tests too soon, slurred speech, the inability to speak or count as directed, the inability to follow directions, the inability to perform the correct number or sets, stopping the test before being instructed to do so, muscle tightening or tremors, and a lack of depth perception, among others.
The results of non-standardized field sobriety tests can be successfully challenged in court, because the tests aren’t recognized as accurate indicators of intoxication. Although these tests are designed to measure mental and physical impairment from alcohol use, many of these signs can be traced to physical problems that have nothing to do with alcohol.
Physical vs. Mental Impairment
This aspect of drunk-driving defense is key for anyone facing a DUI / DWI: Experts agree that when it comes to alcohol intoxication, mental impairment always occurs before physical impairment. Some individuals have an alcohol tolerance that masks signs of physical impairment, but mental impairment can never be masked. If a driver is physically impaired but not mentally impaired, the physical impairment must come from a source other than alcohol, and a jury must acquit a driver on a charge of driving while impaired.
Remember, a jury must be convinced of the driver’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to return a drinking and driving conviction. An experienced DUI defense attorney knows that the inherent flaws in non-standard field sobriety tests pose great problems for the prosecution, and create doubt in the minds of jurors.
There are many reasons other than alcohol intoxication that may cause a driver to show signs of physical impairment, including injury, illness, fatigue, or nervousness. By taking a complete medical history, a lawyer who specializes in California DUI cases can determine whether any physical impairment stems from causes other than alcohol impairment. Ultimately, the results of field sobriety tests can be successfully challenged. No one who has ever fought a drunk-driving case and won has ever regretted that fight.