One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of a Minnesota DWI traffic stop occurs when the officer asks you to get out of your vehicle and perform a series of sobriety tests. Almost anyone who has watched an episode of Law & Order has heard of such tests, but few people understand exactly what they are or how they work. Keep reading to find out more.
What is a field sobriety test?
Field sobriety tests are a set of three tests developed back in the 1970s by the federal government that are designed to assess a person’s impairment. The tests have been scientifically validated so that their results can be admitted into court and have been found to reliably predict if a driver is impaired or over the legal limit.
What are the three most common types of field sobriety tests in Minnesota?
The first example of a standardized field sobriety test is what’s known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (also known as the HGN test). The HGN test involves an officer checking a driver’s eyes for involuntary movement while the person is instructed to look side to side. Though the test may seem strange, the fact is an impaired person’s eyes are meant to betray them. Intoxicated drivers typically have a pronounced wobble in their eye movement, something that trained officers are taught to watch for. Beyond looking for the telltale eye wobble, officers also watch for signs that the driver cannot smoothly follow an object across his or her field of vision.
The second part of a standardized field sobriety tests is what is known as the walk-and-turn test (or WAT test). The WAT test sounds exactly like what it is, a person is asked to walk in a line and turn around, following instructions from the police officer all the while. Data has shown that drivers who are impaired will have a hard time performing the task properly. Police officers are trained to watch for balance issues, irregular walking patterns or a failure to follow instructions from the officer while performing the WAT test.
The final and largely most well known component of a standardized field sobriety test is the one-leg stand. This test requires that a driver stand for 30 seconds while balancing on one foot. Though this may sound difficult for even sober drivers to accomplish, data shows that failure to perform the task indicates impairment on the part of the driver. Police officers are told to specifically watch for signs that the subject is swaying or hopping to maintain balance, supposed indicators of intoxication.
So how reliable are these field sobriety tests?
Well, it depends on who you ask. According to the federal government and research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these tests are deemed reliable in determining an person’s level of impairment and often times they are admissable in a criminal trial as evidence of impairment for the state. The NHTSA says that when all three tests are performed properly and together, there is a 90 percent chance that the arresting officer will be able to accurately determine a driver’s level of impairment.
However, speaking from a DUI defense lawyer’s perspective, the tests are greatly flawed and we do not believe they are good predictor of whether a driver is impaired. Furthermore, if a police officer does not follow specific instructions as to how each test needs to be performed, the test is worthless for evaluating impairment. In summary, attacking the reliability of field sobriety testing should be the first step when analyzing and preparing a DWI defense.
Choosing the right DWI Attorney in Minneapolis, MN
It is imperative that the attorney you choose has had a tremendous amount of experience cross-examining police officers as to their training with regard to filed sobriety testing. Douglas T. Kans and his defense team have litigated thousands of alcohol related driving offenses over 18 years and can provide the aggressive DUI defense your case requires.