September 20, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Thanks to television shows and movies, most people have a basic idea of how field sobriety tests (FSTs) work. Just hearing the phrase "field sobriety test" might make you envision a motorist pulled over to the side of the road, trying to walk heel-to-toe along the yellow line while a stern-looking police officer looks on and the patrol car's lights flash in the background. Or, perhaps you picture someone trying to touch their nose with their fingertips, balance on one foot or recite the alphabet backwards.
In real life, FSTs work a bit differently. Police officers must undergo extensive training to perform these seemingly simple examinations in an exacting yet fair manner that is both actually indicative of a driver's level of intoxication and will garner probable cause for an arrest. Not all officers are as skilled at administering the tests, though, and the potential for abuse is high.
Additionally, it is important to note that in Washington State officers must advise a motorist that FSTs are voluntary
and obtain consent before subjecting a motorist to the tests. Very often, officers will fail to indicate to the motorist that the FSTs are voluntary and this failure may render the tests inadmissible in court if it can be established that they failed to do so.
What Are the Standard Field Sobriety Tests?
Washington state, like many other states around the country, doesn't rely on a single field sobriety test to indicate that a motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol
. While individual training programs can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, Washington uses the three standard tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These are:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus
- One-leg stand/balance
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
The horizontal gaze nystagmus is a reflex action by which the eyes will involuntarily jerk toward a light or motion the eye catches in its peripheral vision. Usually, the response only occurs at a high angle, but if a person is impaired, the reaction will occur at smaller peripheral angles. The NHTSA explains that there are several different things that someone administering a horizontal gaze nystagmus test
is looking for that could indicate impairment:
- Ensuring that the eye is following an object (usually the officer's finger or a penlight) smoothly
- If the eyes jerk once they reach a peripheral angle
- The test subject's eyes begin to jerk at a shallow peripheral angle (less than 45 degrees)
While the NHTSA's description is rather technical in nature, essentially the test is designed to judge how coordinated a person's eyes are when responding to a stimulus. The level of response, though, is a subjective determination made by the officer on the scene. If he or she isn't properly trained, the results can easily be misleading. There are also several types of legitimate medical conditions that could affect the results of this test, and numerous prescription anticonvulsant and antidepressant medications can cause abnormal retinal responses.
The walk-and-turn test is exactly what it sounds like: having the subject walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, take a number of steps, turn around and then walk back toward the officer. This test is surprisingly thorough, though. It not only checks the subject's balance while standing, but it also measures:
- Ability to follow directions (only starting and stopping at the officer's request, taking a set number of steps, turning in the proper direction)
- Physical coordination (actually ensuring that the subject's heels and toes touch properly while walking, not allowing the subject to use his or her arms to stay upright, not stepping off the line during the test)
The one-legged stand is another seemingly simple task that discloses a surprising amount of information about the subject's level of impairment to the officer administering the test. If the subject cannot raise one leg and count aloud without lowering his foot, uses his arms for added balance, sways or hops, he or she might be intoxicated. Of course, balance issues can be caused by inner ear infections, vertigo, physical disabilities, some prescription medications and other perfectly innocent reasons.
While field sobriety tests are a helpful and informative tool to police officers trying to determine if a motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they are subjective in nature and can easily result in a "false positive" where someone who is not intoxicated could be arrested for DUI. Furthermore, these tests are only indicators of impairment, and failing them does not alone mean the driver is actually intoxicated. Since there is so much room for subjective interpretation in these tests, and legal bars to their admission in court if not properly administered, if you or a loved one is facing a Washington DUI charge, seek the counsel of a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area to ensure that your legal rights are adequately protected.
Article provided by Green & Ritchie, PLLC
Visit us at www.greenandritchie.com---
Press release service and press release distribution provided by http://www.24-7pressrelease.com
# # #Read more Press Releases from FL Web Advantage: