Articles Tagged with Field Sobriety Testing In Ohio DUI/OVI Cases

During a recent OVI jury trial, the judge and I disagreed about the function of standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). During a sidebar, I argued the tests do not measure driving impairment; they predict blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The judge’s opinion was SFSTs measure impairment of driving ability. The judge’s opinion prevailed, despite being wrong, because the judge’s opinion always prevails in the judge’s courtroom (unless and until an appellate court says otherwise). This particular judge is intelligent, well-intentioned, and better educated on DUI/OVI issues than most judges and lawyers. If this judge misunderstands the purpose of SFSTs, it’s a topic worth addressing.

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A Very Brief History Of Standardized Field Sobriety Testing
Before the introduction of SFSTs, law enforcement officers used a variety of non-standardized tests to help them decide whether to arrest a person for drunk driving. Beginning in 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sponsored research which resulted in the development of standardized field sobriety tests. That research also led to the NHTSA manual: “DWI Detection And Standardized Field Sobriety Testing”.

Subsequent to the original publication of the manual, NHTSA conducted multiple validation studies. Those studies have evaluated the SFSTs in various environments and have examined multiple factors affecting the tests. The reports from the studies are clear: what’s being evaluated is the effectiveness of the SFSTs to predict BAC, not driving impairment.

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Fourth amendment law does not lend itself to mathematical formulas. Rather than using equations to decide Constitutional issues, courts look at the totality of the circumstances and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of whether an officer had probable cause to justify an arrest. However, one theorem illustrated by a recent Ohio OVI case is this: clues on Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) does not equal Probable Cause (PC).

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The case is State v. Kopp. An officer observed the rear license plate was not functioning on Kopp’s vehicle. The officer ran the vehicle’s license plate, which he could read even without the license plate light, and learned the owner of the vehicle had an expired driver license from the state of Ohio. The officer stopped the vehicle. Before stopping the vehicle, the officer had not observed any evidence the driver may be under the influence.

After stopping the vehicle, the officer learned the driver, Kopp, had a valid driver license from the state of Georgia. During the stop, the officer observed the odor of fresh marijuana, as well as the odor of alcohol, and Kopp admitted to smoking marijuana. The officer also noted Kopp’s eyes were very glassy and somewhat bloodshot. The officer asked Kopp to get out of the vehicle for field sobriety testing.

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Imagine you are driving home on a central Ohio freeway after a late dinner and you are pulled over by a police officer. The officer says you were stopped for failing to use your turn signal when you changed lanes. The officer announces he smells the odor of alcohol and asks if you have been drinking. You did have a glass of wine with dinner. The officer then asks you to get out of the car for some field sobriety tests to “make sure you’re okay to drive”. Under what circumstances is the officer justified in doing this?

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This entry is a follow-up to the last entry in this blog, which discussed the case of Rodriguez v. United States.  Rodriguez involved a motorist stopped for a minor traffic violation and detained for a drug dog to arrive. The United States Supreme Court concluded the duration of the stop must not exceed the time necessary to address the traffic violation. The rule clarified in the Rodriguez case is this: any further detention is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the motorist is violating the law.

The rule clarified in Rodriguez is followed in Ohio DUI/OVI cases. If an officer stops a driver for a traffic violation, further detention of the driver for field sobriety testing is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the driver is under the influence. The issue often litigated is what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion”.

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If you get a ride from an ARIDE officer, it’s because you’ve been arrested for DUI/OVI. The acronym stands for Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, and ARIDE is a course which some police officers complete to improve at investigating and prosecuting Ohio DUI/OVI cases involving drugs. To better understand what officers are learning at ARIDE, I recently completed the program myself, and I expect it to improve my effectiveness in defending cases involving driving under the influence of drugs.

ARIDE photo with certificateBefore an officer can take the ARIDE course, the officer must first complete the training program for DWI Detection And Standardized Field Sobriety Testing sanctioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). I completed that program in 2005. That program explains the three phases of DUI/OVI investigations and includes hours of hands-on training for administering the three standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). The three SFSTs are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (follow the pen with your eyes), the Walk And Turn test, and the One Leg Stand test.

Field sobriety testing is the focus of the first part of the ARIDE course. Participants undergo updated training for administering the SFSTs and are introduced to two additional tests. The first new test, the Romberg Balance test has requires a subject to tilt his head back, close his eyes, and estimate 30 seconds. The second new test, the Lack of Convergence test, involves moving a stimulus close to the subject’s nose to see if the subject’s eyes cross. Course participants must pass an SFST proficiency test to continue to the second part of the ARIDE course.

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