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On the validity of field sobriety tests

On Behalf of | Jan 5, 2016 | Field Sobriety Tests |

You can probably imagine a movie scene in your mind where the protagonist, down on his or her luck, makes a poor decision and decides to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while drunk. The protagonist inevitably gets pulled over, and he or she eventually gets caught. The protagonist then is embarrassed by a police officer that makes them perform a wide variety of silly acts and stunts to prove his or her inebriation.

That’s probably how a lot of people think about field sobriety tests, and for the most part, they aren’t wrong. Plenty of good people are pulled over under the suspicion of drunk driving and are made to perform ridiculous tasks that no on in their right mind would be able to perform without some practice and rehearsal first.

For example, touching your nose with your arms starting from an extended position away from your face. That sounds simple on the surface, right? But in practice, it is much more difficult. You could run through many other acts during a field sobriety test — standing on one leg, walking in a straight line directly on that line, reciting phrases or passages — and come to the same conclusion.

This has led to many people challenging field sobriety tests and the way they are conducted. Or, at the very least, questioning the validity of field sobriety tests. Do they truly give an accurate indication of a person’s state of mind? Or are they arbitrary tasks that few people, without practice, could accomplish in the first place?