What Is A Standardized Field Sobriety Test?

Three tests are generally used; the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, in which they take a penlight and make you follow up and down with your eyes. The Walk-and-Turn test, in which they ask you to walk nine steps, turn and walk nine steps back. Plus the One-Leg-Stand, in which they have you stand on one leg and raise the other. The biggest misconception, even among the police officers giving it is that those tests are designed to detect if you’re impaired, but they absolutely are not.

Dr. Marceline Burns and Howard Moskowitz, who were hired by the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority in the mid-’70s to standardize these tests, have testified and/or written that these tests are not designed to detect impairment, they’re basically a gauge to see if your blood alcohol content is over the legal limit set. Dr. Burns has specifically stated that there isn’t a test that can be designed to test if you’re impaired.

The police officers are trained in what exactly these tests are for. It’s in their manuals and it specifically says the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the one-leg-stand are gauges to see if you’re over the legal limit and based on validated studies. Per their own statistics, they’re only good two-thirds of the time for the Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg-Stand tests. However, in Pennsylvania, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is not admissible at trial because, fortunately, Pennsylvania still thinks it’s voodoo science.

When is it Decided Whether a Blood Test or a Breathalyzer is to Be Administered?

The protocol is, they’ll give you the field sobriety tests first, and then they administer a portable breathalyzer to confirm their findings, but many police officers do the breathalyzer first, which gives them a cognitive bias going into the test. Those little breathalyzer machines are not very accurate. In fact, they’re very rarely calibrated properly, and the results of those are not admissible at trial; they’re only admissible in the preliminary hearing, and only to show the presence of alcohol.

In short, police conduct the field sobriety tests, then administer the portable breathalyzer and then arrest you. If you blow in the portable breathalyzer and nothing shows up, they’ll automatically think it’s drugs. They’ll ask the person if they’ve take any drugs, and since many people take prescription medications these days they’ll say yes and say it’s prescribed, at which point they’ll put the handcuffs on you.

Why are the Tests Inaccurate? Is It the Officer or Is there Another Reason?

The tests themselves are misleading; most of the time, the police officers don’t administer them correctly, especially when people tell them they have physical problems. In the earlier versions of the manuals, in the ’70s or ’80s, they were told that if someone had back, leg or neck problems or was overweight or over a certain age, they shouldn’t do them, but later versions tell police to just that their physical problems into consideration, which is impossible to do.

No scientifically valid studies have been done to date that show why they should or shouldn’t give it to injured people, but a lot of people cannot walk one foot in front of the other or stand on one leg on their best day. I’ve also caught state police officers lying in court, based on what was on video; in one case, a state police officer at a preliminary hearing testified that he administered the test and found certain clues, but the video showed that his partner administered the test and most of the clues the other police officer said he saw weren’t present.

Three times I’ve caught state troopers lying. I read the report and watched the video and it’s like they’re in a different world because they made it up, usually because of their inability to do the test right. Some police officers, especially locals, have never had the training or were trained by their superior officers who never received the training, so they don’t do things in a standardized manner, and if you don’ apply and score the test as designed, it becomes subjective which is equal to guessing.

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