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Field Sobriety Tests May be Problematic Even for Sober People

During the warmer summer and fall months when drunk driving is more common, law enforcement agencies across the country will be taking extra measures to keep drunk drivers off the roads. Colorado residents may have seen numerous checkpoints on local roadways, particularly during the Independence Day holiday. During checkpoints and other traffic stops, police officers may use a technique called the field sobriety test.

Field sobriety tests may be
difficult for sober people to pass,
and can result in inaccurate and
faulty drunk driving arrests.

Field Sobriety Test Points

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Standardized Field Sobriety Test has been developed to help police officers spot signs of intoxication without the use of a breath or chemical test. The test involves several basic actions, which may include the following:

  • Standing on one foot for a certain period of time and counting out loud without losing balance, hopping or putting the other foot down
  • Walking in a line and then turning on one foot and returning in the same direction without using the arms for balance, swaying or falling
  • Looking straight ahead so the officer can look for eye movements that signal intoxication
  • These tests, as well as a person's speech and ordinary movements, may give an officer probable cause to make an arrest without conducting further testing.

These tests may result in false arrests
Unfortunately, field sobriety tests may result in someone being accused of drunk driving despite being sober, states ABC Action News. It is difficult for many people to keep their balance even under the best conditions. There are numerous medical conditions and other impairments that may mimic signs of intoxication, including obesity, age, cognitive impairments or speech impediments. Someone who is suffering from joint problems or an injury may be unable to stand one on foot or walk in a straight line. Halting or slurred speech resulting from a mild stroke might make an officer suspicious that the driver has been drinking.

Consequently, sober people may find themselves facing the serious potential consequences of a drunk driving charge. According to the Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services, those with a first DUI conviction may spend up to one year in jail and have to pay a $600 to $1,000 fine, as well as perform up to 96 hours of community service. They may even be required to attend an alcohol treatment program.

A DUI conviction, even one resulting from a faulty field sobriety test, can affect a person for years. The monetary costs are further compounded by the social stigma and potential employment ramifications from having a drunk driving conviction on one's record. It is important for those arrested during a field sobriety test to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to protect their rights.