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Are DUI Field Sobriety Tests Designed for Failure?

Los Angeles DUI Attorney Points to Studies

2009 | Sep 11

Roadside “field sobriety tests” are commonly used by police officers in DUI investigations to determine whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol. Typically, they consist of a battery of 3-4 tasks, such as walk-and-turn, one-leg-stand, finger-to-nose, or nystagmus ("follow the pencil with your eyes").

Los Angeles DUI lawyer Lawrence Taylor, author of the best-selling legal treatise Drunk Driving Defense, argues that although these DUI tests have an aura of scientific credibility to a jury, they have no real basis in science and are almost useless in determining intoxication.

First, Taylor says, any honest officer will admit that the decision to arrest for DUI is usually made at the driver’s window. Since the officer has already made up his mind, his subjective decision as to whether a person passed or failed the tests is suspect: as with any human, he will "see" what he expects to see.

Second, the conditions under which field sobriety tests are taken almost guarantee failure: usually late at night, possibly cold, along a graveled or sloped roadside, cars passing a few feet away with bright headlights and buffeting the suspect with wind waves, the officer’s moving flashlight and his patrol car’s blinding headlights providing the lighting. Add the fact that the DUI suspect is nervous, possibly frightened and completely unfamiliar with the tests.

Taylor, known nationally as the “Dean of DUI Attorneys”, points to a scientific study to argue that even under ideal conditions the tests are “designed for failure”.

Dr. Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University conducted a study on the accuracy of roadside field sobriety tests. His staff videotaped individuals performing six common field sobriety tests, then showed the tapes to 14 experienced police officers and asked them to decide whether the suspects had "had too much to drink and drive".

Unknown to the officers, the blood-alcohol concentration of each of the 21 DUI subjects was .00% -- stone sober.

The results: the officers gave their opinions that 46% of these innocent people were “too drunk to drive” (Cole and Nowaczyk, "Field Sobriety Tests: Are they Designed for Failure?", 79 Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal 99).

In other words, the Los Angeles DUI attorney says, the field sobriety tests were hardly more accurate at detecting intoxication than flipping a coin.

For more information, visit the firm’s website at http://losangeles.duicentral.com. Inquiries may be directed to: 562.989.4774.

Daniel Stanton

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Lawrence Taylor have an average experience of 18 years; the firm has specialized only in DUI defense since 1979. More information about Mr. Taylor's firm can be found at their homepage, www.duicentral.com.