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How Effective are Field Sobriety Tests

dui lawyer los angelesIn the discussion of drinking and driving, few offenders would argue that it’s safe. Driving under the influence causes accidents and claims lives—a crime that, with good reason, should not be viewed with carelessness. Still, when it comes to the severity of the crime, a field sobriety test (FST) is literal proof that not all drunk drivers are created equal. If you’ve been charged with a DUI, the first thing to do is consult a DUI lawyer in Los Angeles to help guide you through the process. Further, it’s important to understand the effectiveness of a field sobriety test as it will most likely be a primary piece of evidence used against you. Here’s what you need to know.

A brief history of FSTs

According to California’s DUI Legal Guide, there are several methods an officer can employ during a field sobriety test. They include, but are not limited to, asking the driver to recite the alphabet, follow an object with their eyes from side to side (otherwise known as a nystagmus test), stand on one leg, walk and turn, and put a finger to their nose. While such tests have been in use for decades, it wasn’t until the 1970s that they were tested for accuracy by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

Researchers found many of the tests to be a poor indication of intoxication due to their subjective nature. That is to say some of them were considered difficult for even sober individuals to perform. The study concluded that the three most effective test measures were the walk-and-turn, one-leg stand, and nystagmus test. Of those three methods, nearly half of the test subjects who failed actually had a blood alcohol level below .10 percent. What does this mean? In short, they would have been arrested even though they were not driving under the influence by legal standards.

Today’s approach to FSTs

Despite the growing controversy, any California DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles will tell you that police officers can still request any test they choose—and often do. The problems with this are threefold: implementation of “standardized tests” becomes useless due to lack of adherence, drivers who are unfamiliar with a specific test may be less likely to “pass,” and not all tests are indicative of a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. In reality, “failures” which often lead to arrest, may simply be the result of nervousness or clumsiness and are not indicative of a driver’s mental or physical capacity. In regard to unfamiliarity of a given test, the CA legal guide noted that, “As few as two miscues in performance can result in an individual being classified as impaired because of alcohol consumption.”

Are these practices fair? The issue is certainly debatable, but one thing remains clear: knowing your rights is the best defense you have in the moment. California law permits you to decline a field sobriety test; however, the prosecutor will argue the “refusal” shows a consciousness of guilt.  Remember, the officer can still arrest you , and under the law of implied consent require a blood or urine test. Keeping the inaccuracy of sobriety tests in mind, and how subjective they are, it may be better to decline them. But while it’s true that knowledge is power, it won’t always save you from arrest. Be respectful; and if you do get arrested, finding an experienced DUI lawyer in Los Angeles should be your number one priority.

Call or email Jon Artz if you would like to discuss your case in confidence with an experienced Los Angeles DUI Attorney.

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