Bad Field Sobriety Tests

When you are pulled over for any driving offense in Maryland, the police officer will also be looking for evidence of other crimes or possible threats or risks to the community. The requires police to maintain a healthy balance between vigilance and allowing people to have privacy and be left alone. Thus, police will generally not detain or arrest you until they have “probable cause” to believe you’ve committed a crime. There are a number of ways that police can obtain this probable cause with respect to a DUI. The most common is a field sobriety test. But these can be flawed.

Why Perform Field Sobriety Tests?

A police officer must have probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause just means the officer has some justifiable reason for taking you into custody. It’s more than a hunch but less than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If an officer smells alcohol, that may give him a reason to suspect you were drinking, but alone that’s really not enough. You may have spilled someone else’s drink on yourself or maybe you took a single sip of alcohol. Therefore, the officer needs to identify whether there’s sufficient evidence of intoxication to justify an arrest. Hence the field sobriety test.

What is a Field Sobriety Test?

These are physical tests of your judgment, agility, and balance. In general, the police officer administering the test must have a certain amount of knowledge and skill and should have been properly trained in not only administering the test, but also recognizing signs of intoxication.

Common tasks for a field sobriety test include:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test – This is where the officer moves a pen or other small object back and forth across your plane of vision. A person under the influence of alcohol will demonstrate a strange condition where the eyes actually shake and quiver as they attempt to follow the object. This is not something an intoxicated person can control.
  • Walk and turn: This is where the officer tells you to follow a line, walking toe-to-heel, while counting steps, then you must turn around in a specific way and walk back along the same line. The key to this is not so much balance, but rather, you are being judged on your ability to follow step-by-step instructions.
  • Leg Lift: Finally, most tests will include a test of your ability to lift your leg and hold it for a period of time. Again, ability to follow instructions is often a key part of this test.
Common Mistakes

Officers are often working late, they may have handled dozens of stops in the same night, and they may be in a rush. Perhaps they’ve already concluded you are intoxicated and they are “going through the motions.” Here are common mistakes police make:

  • Incorrect instructions
  • Confusion instructions
  • Forgetting a step and making up something to substitute the specific instructions
  • Rushing through the test
  • Using an aggressive or even threatening posture or tone
  • Making the person repeat successful steps until they fail
  • Adding comments or suggestions like, “you’ve already failed”
  • Forgetting to ask about physical or medical conditions

When officers use threats, intimidation, or added commentary during a test, the results may tend to show fear or apprehension more than intoxication. Likewise, if a suspect feels they are going to jail no matter what they do, they may not perform as well.

Getting Help After a DUI Charge

If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Anne Arundel, Howard, or Baltimore Counties, call the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A. today. You can’t afford to plead guilty without first speaking to an experienced DUI defense lawyer.


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