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About Field Sobriety Tests--THE HISTORY

The lawyers of Koffel Law Firm have been representing people charged with DUI in Ohio since 1994 on a daily basis. In nearly 95% of our cases, we have to deal with evidence of field sobriety tests. These roadside exercises are hard for anyone to do, let alone when a person is scared. So, what is the science behind the standard battery of field sobriety tests (standing on one leg, the walk and turn, and the pen in front of the eye test (HGN))?

In a nutshell, these exercises were developed by two researchers in the late 1970's - Dr. Marcelline Burns and Dr. Herb Moskowitz. Both researchers were with the brand new institute called the Southern California Research Institute. Dr. Moskowitz had been doing research on rats and the effects of alcohol and other drugs. When the federal government issued a Request for Proposals in 1975 to come up with some roadside DUI tests, SCRI won the contract. From what I can tell, it is one of the very first research projects Marcelline Burns did. In fact, on her CV, I have not seen any other published projects before 1975.

Dr. Burns first report to the federal government was issued in 1977 (Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrest, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Administration, DOT-HS-5-01242). 238 volunteers and 10 police officers from Los Angeles county participated in this lengthy study. All 238 volunteers were tested in a laboratory setting, not roadside. Nor were any of the volunteers under the threat of arrest. The published false arrest rate from the 1977 study was an alarming 47%! That means that 101 of the 238 people "arrested" for DUI, 47 had a blood alcohol level below the legal limit.

In 1981, Dr. Burns submitted another study on field sobriety tests to the federal government. (Development and Field Test of Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrest, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Administration, DOT-HS-8-01970). This time, in order to lower the error rate, 78% of the subjects were dosed with alcohol at either a very high level (.150% or greater) or doses at a very small level (.050% or below). In other words, nearly 80% of the subjects were what we call "gimmes".

The error rate dropped from 47% to 32%. That means that of the 118 people "arrested" for DUI, 37 of them were improperly accused of DUI. More startlingly, of the 37 people falsely accused of DUI, 18 subjects had absolutely no alcohol in their system!

So, if you or someone you know was arrested for DUI primarily on the basis of "failing" field sobriety tests, it is highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer with a deep understanding of the alleged science behind these roadside exercises.

In summary,When an individual is pulled over due to suspicious driving behavior, law enforcement often asks them to perform certain "field sobriety tests". These tests include the "horizontal gaze nystagmus", the "walk and turn" and the "one-legged stand". These tests are so low in accuracy for determining intoxication that it is frightening to consider that they are even used. The best of the tests (for accuracy), according to the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. This test has a 77% accuracy level, and this is the highest. The other two range about 65% - 68% accuracy level. Due to the low level of accuracy, a Columbus DUI defense attorney from Koffel Law Firm may suggest that you do not agree to this testing. However, if you do not, you will be arrested and charged with DUI almost without question.

NHTSA Field Sobriety Test Manual

View the manual used by all cops in the United States.

Submitting to Field Sobriety Tests

You must make your own decision about whether you are going to submit to field sobriety tests. Be aware that they are very low in accuracy, and even so, can be used against you as evidence in court. They are often used by law enforcement to get more evidence of DUI, but in fact, a failure on any of these tests can have countless reasons other than intoxication that can result in a "fail". For example, a bad sense of balance, medical condition, fear, language problems, incorrectly administered test, age and others. Nonetheless, the results will likely be used as evidence in court. Assess your situation and decide whether you choose to submit to the test. Ohio law requires that you do.

When the test results are submitted in court, you can be assured that the law enforcement officer who was administering the test will be questioned carefully, with each step of the test reviewed. These tests are so frequently administered incorrectly, that in many cases the evidence is obviously faulty. The attorney will aggressively fight for you with regard to any field sobriety test evidence presented in court.

Contact a Columbus DUI Defense Attorney from Koffel Law Firm today.

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