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An Overview Of Field Sobriety Tests Administered During A Police Stop And Investigation For DWI

Interviewer: Today we’re with attorney Eric Sachs, and we’re going to be talking about field sobriety tests’ role in a DWI investigation. What are the purposes of the field sobriety tests?

The Field Sobriety Tests Are Administered to Help Law Enforcement Compile Evidence against the Motorist Suspected of Drinking and Driving

Eric Sachs: The only purpose for the field sobriety tests is to help the government and the police try and invent any kind of evidence that they want to use against the motorist. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for these tests.

The tests were originally designed by an organization to help police officers make an arrest decision. This is because there was a chance, or what they call the likelihood that a motorist could be over 0.10. The tests themselves are designed for failure, so there’s nothing that a motorist can do to pass these tests, so there is no purpose for these tests at all.

The Field Sobriety Tests Were Incorporated in the Police Investigations in the 1980s

Interviewer: How long have these field sobriety tests been active? When did they start utilizing them?

Eric Sachs: They came out in the 1980s. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hired an organization headed by a woman whose name was Marceline Burns. She was tasked with designing standardized tests that the police officers could use throughout the country to help them, again, decide if a motorist was under the influence of alcohol.

They invented these tests. They did different validation studies and these are three tests that are used throughout the country which they call standardized field sobriety tests.

Motorists the Police Stop during Early Morning Hours Are Likely to Be Arrested for DWI

Interviewer: Given the process of a DUI arrest, or when someone is being pulled over, at what point does the police officer decide to administer these tests?

Eric Sachs: My theory is that police officers pull a car over somewhere between the hours of 10:00 at night and 3:30 in the morning. I think the officer has already determined that he’s going to be making a DWI arrest. But, what they actually tell the courts and what they tell the DA’s office, and what they testify to is different.

They will claim that they pulled the motorist over for a traffic violation or some other reason; maybe it’s in response to an accident. The police say that the motorist had red, bloodshot, watery eyes, the motorist smelled of alcohol and the speech was slurred. They then asked the person to step out of the car to further investigate these issues, and then they say the person was unsteady on their feet. Based upon those four, what they call clues, they then will take the next step to ask the person to submit to these field testing.

Are the Instructions Given by Officers during the Field Sobriety Tests Open to Misinterpretation?

Interviewer: Do you think that there is any way that a police officer would miscommunicate a certain instruction during the test administration?

The Grading of the Tests Is Subjective as Well

Eric Sachs: Absolutely. I believe most of the time that the police officers themselves are misinformed, and then I believe that they intentionally, or because they are misinformed, misinform the motorist. So they take innocent clues, innocent observations and they immediately turn them in to what they refer to as clues of intoxication, and they use those things to go and attack and arrest our clients.

Most of the time, the police will tell the person if you pass these tests you can go home, or I just want you to take a couple of these tests. But they don’t really tell the person that the reason that they are giving them these tests is to look for clues that they want to testify and use against them.

There’s nothing that they are going to do that’s going to help the motorist. If the motorist was able to do everything 100% correctly, then the test is referred to as inconclusive. So there literally is no reason for anybody to take these tests because you can’t pass them, and then the police officers will misinterpret what they see, or what they say they see and they use it against the motorist.

The Police Will Ask Almost Any Driver to Perform the Field Sobriety Tests

Interviewer: Do you think there’s a certain demographic that the police officer will try to aim for when it comes to doing the sobriety test? Is there a certain type of individual that they target, maybe?

Eric Sachs: Not as much as with regular crimes. I don’t find there’s that big of disparity between male and female and white and non-white. I handle hundreds of these cases a year. It really depends on how many the people are on the road.

Usually you’re the only driver on the road if you are pulled over between those particular hours. There are some police officers who do look for females. There are some who look for the men coming out of these bars or clubs, but I think this is the one crime of opinion. This is one crime where the police don’t care who they arrest, they just want to arrest everybody.

By: Eric Sachs