Articles Tagged with Standardized Field Sobrity Tests

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.

Walk-And-Turn-black-and-white-300x230

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.

Continue Reading

This is the week of July 4th.  For some, that means celebrating our nation’s independence with burgers, beer and boats.  As alcohol is often mixed with boating, people are prosecuted and punished for boating under the influence (BUI).  But how do law enforcement officers determine if a person’s ability to operate a boat is impaired by alcohol?

Boat-with-US-flag-300x169

Standardized Sobriety Tests And Sea Legs
Law enforcement officers have historically investigated BUI using the same Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) as those used for DUI / OVI cases on land.  Those tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk And Turn (WAT) and the One Leg Stand (OLS) tests.

 

In 1990, the U.S. Coast Guard, in conjunction with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), conducted a study regarding the utility of the SFSTs in the marine environment.  The report from the study concludes the use of the SFSTs is effective for making the correct arrest decision, and the accuracy of the tests is not degraded in the marine environment.  The report was later criticized because it ignored the effect of ‘sea legs’ on test performance.

Continue Reading