One of the most common methods for gathering evidence in a DUI investigation are SFSTs (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests). Even though these procedures are supposed to be “standardized” tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), they can be more of a subjective interpretation of what a police officer observes. While the tests are based on loose scientific research, the results from SFSTs have been proven to be far from 100% accurate.
Have you recently been arrested for DUI based on a questionable Field Sobriety Exam? If so, contact the Law Office of Joshua Kaizuka at (916) 706-0678 for a free, no obligation consultation. With over fifteen years of combined legal experience, our office has successfully challenged dozens of field sobriety reports and managed countless DUI defense cases.
We specialize in DUI law and have in-depth knowledge about this complex area of litigation. We have helped hundreds of northern California residents fight their DUI arrests, and we can do the same for you. Contact us today for a free consultation and learn what options may be available for your case.
Current field sobriety examination techniques were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) back in the early 1980s. Although these methods have been refined over the years, they still do not guarantee accuracy even under the ideal testing conditions.
In fact, according to the most recent NHTSA guidebook, the overall reliability of these tests still only hovers around 79-88% depending on the test. That is assuming police officers follow the testing methods to the letter (which rarely happens). Any deviations from these guidelines decrease the accuracy of the SFST results.
The tests themselves are a series of exercises designed to gauge coordination, balance and the ability to focus on multiple tasks at once. Although many different versions of these tests have been used throughout the years, there are three that form the basis of modern investigations - the one-leg-stand, walk-and-turn, and nystagmus. This trio is what the NHTSA recommends and should be used by most law enforcement agencies.
The nystagmus exam is probably one of the most recognizable tests from movies and television. Suspects are asked to follow a moving object -usually a small pen or light - without turning their face or head to do so. (88% accurate)
The suspects are asked to raise one leg six inches off the ground while standing in place. If the person sways, puts their foot down or uses their arms to maintain balance they do not pass. (83% accurate)
This exam involves walking in a straight line for nine steps (heel-to-toe), turning 180 degrees, and then repeating the process. The walk-and-turn method is designed to test a suspect’s ability to focus on more than one instruction at a time. (79% accurate)
The important element to note is that many of these tests may be difficult even for sober people. The elderly, those who are overweight, those with physical injuries or disabilities, and people with poor balance or coordination issues can fail such exams while being completely sober. Unlike law enforcement officers who routinely demonstrate the tests and practice, the general public’s first encounter with the tests is when they get pulled over and asked to perform them.
Additionally, field sobriety tests were designed to be administered on flat surfaces in perfectly dry conditions. SFSTs administered outside of the guidelines (in the rain, with poor visibility, on uneven terrain, etc.) should not be used as evidence.
One of the biggest misconceptions about DUI arrests involves taking the SFSTs themselves. Most drivers assume they have to do whatever they are told by police officers. This simply is not true.
Field sobriety exams are not mandatory. You are allowed to decline these tests. However, if the officer objectively believes that you have been drinking alcohol or under the influence of some type of drug based on general observation or smell, then you may still be arrested.
If you have not been drinking any alcohol or taking any medication/drug, you are better off declining these tests. Keep in mind there is no need to be rude to the investigator (which usually causes trouble), just politely state that you choose to decline the exam.
Outside of questions about your identity, license, vehicle registration or proof of insurance, you are not required to say anything about your driving or ingestion of alcohol or drugs.
You may also be asked blow into a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device to assist a police officer to confirm a blood alcohol level to make the decision on whether to make an arrest or not. Most people associate this with blowing into a “breathalyzer.” PAS devices are not “breathalyzer” devices, but are another form of field sobriety exams and thus can be declined if you are 21 years or old and not on DUI probation.
Those under the age of 21 years old, do not have the choice to decline without the consequence of losing their privilege to drive for 1 year.
If police determine they have probable cause to arrest you for a DUI, you will likely be arrested for DUI. At this point, California law requires that you submit to chemical testing of your blood alcohol level (BAC). Although you have to take a test, you have the choice of which one - breath, blood, or urine.
While urine tests are known for being wildly inaccurate, they are rarely available at the scene. More often than not, a blood test is the most accurate.
Blood tests can help your case in several ways:
While breathalyzers give on-the-spot results, blood tests must be drawn in a medically approved manner by trained personnel. Normally, the results are not available for weeks or months. If the last drink was more than an hour before the blood draw, the alcohol level may be going down resulting in a lower BAC level at the time of the blood draw.
There are strict guidelines regarding how the blood draw must be conducted, the type of tube used, the preservative in the tube to prevent any alcohol and bacteria from fermenting and increasing the BAC levels in blood samples or some coagulation or problem with the collected blood sample. When blood is mishandled or stored incorrectly, the evidence can be damaged and may not admissible in court.
While breath samples from a breathalyzer readings dissipate and cannot be collected for a retest, blood samples are normally saved and can be tested again by third party labs to see if there are any problems with the sample, the preservative levels in the tube, and verify the results.
On the flip side, if an individual has taken medications or drugs that may impair his or her ability to drive, and has also consumed alcohol, sometimes a breath test may be the best way to go. Any amount of alcohol can increase the effects of medication or drugs causing impairment.
Keep in mind that you are only required to provide one chemical test. If an officer asks you to take more than one exam, politely decline. Otherwise, you may be providing additional evidence against yourself.
While many lawyers accept DUI cases, most do not have the specialized skills and training required to handle them. You are far better off looking for an attorney with a proven track record in DUI litigation and a successful history to back it up.
The Law Office of Joshua Kaizuka focuses on California DUI arrests and maintains a deep understanding of DUI crimes and investigations. Mr. Kaizuka has taken the same course as law enforcement officers to administer SFSTs as well as the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) focusing on drug impairment. We thoroughly examine each case and design a custom defense strategy around your unique circumstances.
We have been helping Northern California DUI clients for many years and know the ins and outs of field sobriety tests, defenses, and the courts. If you or someone you know needs help with a DUI arrest, call our office today at (916) 706-0678 for a free, no obligation consultation.
Stop worrying and let our DUI experts guide you through the process. Call now!