Police in Minnesota are trained to administer field sobriety tests to a driver they suspect may be driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The field sobriety tests, if administered correctly and under proper conditions, can be a reliable indicator of the sobriety level of a driver. However, field sobriety tests are far from foolproof. Improper administration, improper instruction, inadequate lighting, and uneven ground are factors which will distort the accuracy of this test. During the trial, especially during cross-examination, errors in test administration, result interpretation, test explanation, and environmental defects can be shown to the jury in an attempt to exculpate the accused. Examination on these points can show the jury that, even if the driver “failed” the 9-step walk and turn field sobriety test according to the police officer, the driver was not actually driving while intoxicated.
Police officers are trained in administering field sobriety tests. Specifically, instructors teach the recruits which tests to select, how to administer the tests, how to properly give instructions, what to look for in the driver’s performance of those tests, and how to interpret the driver’s performance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls the 9-step walk and turn a “divided attention test.” They further claim that a divided attention test can be performed by a sober person without much difficulty. The test, simply stated, requires the test subject, (the suspected drunk driver), to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps, perform a turn around maneuver as specifically instructed, and walk back nine steps, heel-to-toe, all along a straight line without losing balance.
In theory, the test is simple. It tests the subject’s ability to listen, comprehend, follow instructions, and maintain balance. The officer is trained to watch the subject for several cues as to the performance on the test. Incidentally, if the officer has a driver on the side of the road and is asking the driver to perform these tests, the officer already suspects the driver is driving while intoxicated. Field sobriety test administration simply confirms the officer’s suspicion and accumulates more evidence to a point where the officer believes there is probable cause to arrest for driving while intoxicated. According to the NHTSA, the officer is looking for evidence that the subject does not follow directions by beginning too early, losing balance during the instruction phase, not walking the correct amount of steps out and back, raising arms to keep balance while walking, straying from the straight line, and turning around in a manner inconsistent with instructions. The NHTSA’s Standardized Field Test instruction concludes that if two or more of these indicators are present, the subject is likely to have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08% or above.
Correct interpretation of the indicators is critical is the test is to contain any validity. The indicators for which the officer is watching, listed above, all assume perfect conditions and perfect health of the subject. There are multiple environmental variables as well as personal variables that will adversely affect the outcome of the test. For instance, no visible line is present on the roadway for the driver to follow. Debris on the roadway will also adversely affect performance. Poor lighting conditions will influence performance too. Traffic conditions will play a role. An officer can testify that the roadway was flat and free from debris, the driver had a line to follow, the lighting was good, and the traffic conditions were safe, resulting in what they claim are ideal conditions to conduct this test. The subject’s health will also be an issue. Knee, hip, back, and inner-ear problems may cause a person to have difficulty performing the test. These factors all must be taken into consideration, and it is incumbent upon your Minnesota DUI Defense Attorney to raise these issues should they apply in your case.
Contact the Kans Law Firm, LLC Today
At the Kans Law Firm, LLC, an experienced DWI defense attorney will thoroughly review where the coordination tests were given to determine the quality of the lighting conditions and roadway. To protect your legal rights and interests, contact the Top Rated Minneapolis Minnesota DWI & Criminal Defense Attorney now at the Kans Law Firm, LLC. As a former prosecutor, attorney Doug Kans will advise you of your rights and design a defense with your best interests in mind. Contact us today at (952) 835-6314 to learn more about how we can make a difference for you.