Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are administered in nearly every DUI/OVI case in Columbus and central Ohio. A previous post in this blog analyzed the standard for admitting the tests as evidence in court: the SFSTS must be administered in substantial compliance with the officers' training manual for the tests to be admissible. A recent case in an Ohio appellate court applied that standard and concluded the tests were not admissible in Middleburg Heights v. Gettings.
In the Gettings case, a trooper stopped the defendant for weaving and observed the "usual trilogy" of signs that the defendant was under the influence: the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and bloodshot/glassy eyes. The trooper administered a 'condensed' horizontal gaze nystagmus (follow the pen with your eyes) test, then had Gettings get out of the car. The trooper then administered all three standardized field sobriety tests, despite the defendant's knee problems. The trooper arrested the defendant, and the defendant blew over the high-test limit on a breath test. In court, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the field sobriety tests and also argued that the trooper did not have justification to arrest him. The judge overruled both motions.
The appellate court saw things differently. By filing the motion, the defendant put the burden on the prosecution to prove the field sobriety tests were administered in substantial compliance with the SFST manual issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). At the hearing on the defendant's motion, the prosecutor did not elicit any testimony from the trooper regarding the trooper's training in SFSTs, did not introduce the NHTSA manual as evidence, and did not even ask the trooper any details about how the tests were administered. The prosecutor simply asked the trooper if the tests were performed in compliance with the NHTSA manual, and the trooper said they were.