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Field Sobriety Test Accuracy & Improper Administration

Interviewer: Yeah. Some of the tests themselves, do you think that they’re flawed in a way? Is there any scientific basis to them?

Adam Hunt: They’re really not that accurate and you’re relying on another individual who could be prejudiced against a person, maybe because the driver got smart with them, and I don’t think that they’re very scientific. There are police officers who will tell you, “As soon as I do the gauge test I can tell right away,” and they might be that experienced, but they still have to jump through the hoops and perform other tests in the proper manner and not just rely on that because an individual could have an eye problem or there could be environmental conditions that are impacting their eyes.

Interviewer: How often do you see cases like this popping up?

Adam Hunt: Obviously, one of the most important parts of any type of OVI case – and there are a lot of OVIs because they’ve cracked down on them pretty well – is seeing how the sobriety test was administered, and seeing if it was done properly, and if there’s a video to prove otherwise, whether the stop was legitimate since they’re not allowed to just pull over a car for no reason whatsoever as long as they’re lawfully driving. That’s the start of everything, so it’s everything from the beginning on you want to criticize or pull apart and start poking holes in whatever case the prosecutor brings.

Interviewer: What are the tests that police officers usually will conduct improperly in the cases that you see? Is there a common one or does it vary?

Adam Hunt: I think it varies. I don’t think they necessarily always conduct them wrong. They may not be conducting them wrong per se, but a lot of it depends on the conditions. The most common thing I see is probably asking someone to do certain types of tests on unleveled ground or where the blacktop is destroyed or is eroding. That’s the probably the most common thing that I see.

Interviewer: I’ve heard of cases where a police officer will say, “You’re about to do the one-leg-stand test. You need to do this, and here you go. This is what you’ve got to do. If you feel like putting your leg down, go ahead and do that.” The person goes, “Oh, okay,” and they do that for a couple of seconds, put their leg down and then put it back up. Then the police officer won’t say anything but they’ll go ahead and mark that as a bad point. It didn’t sound like in that particular case that it’s almost like a misleading thing.

Adam Hunt: Right. It could be something that was misleading or a miscommunication even.

Interviewer: Okay. You mentioned something earlier that brings a question to mind in which a police officer may get a little upset or agitated depending on the person’s attitude and may decide to administer these exercises. Do you think that there’s an intimidation factor sometimes? Have you seen that?

Adam Hunt: I think so, especially when it’s somebody that’s never been in trouble before. Maybe they’re a little nervous because they’re being confronted by somebody that’s in authority. Maybe they did have a couple of drinks, and they may be close to the limit but they’re under, and they might not be that experienced at drinking and driving to begin with, which is always a good thing, but there’s definitely some intimidation coming from a police officer, especially at night. Then he’s got a gun, and he has handcuffs, and they don’t want to go to jail. It can be a scary experience.

Language Barrier

Interviewer: I’ve heard of cases where there is a certain region where they may just not understand what the officer is saying because the officer has a really thick accent. Have you ever seen that before or heard of that?

Adam Hunt: Yes, I’ve seen that and I’ve also seen people that maybe don’t speak very good English and that have a hard time understanding English to begin with.

Police Officer Training on Field Sobriety Tests

Interviewer: Oh, wow. The police officers are trained for this, correct? They have the training that they must go to maybe annually, or what’s the deal with that?

Adam Hunt: I’m not certain what their certification requirements are. I know that they’re taught, from day one once they’re in the academy or whatever, how to conduct and what they’re looking for. I’m certain that there’s probably some annual or biannual certification or re-test that has to occur if they’re going to be conducting those tests. The alternative would be if they’re not capable of doing it, then they would just radio for another officer who would be able to.

By: Adam Hunt

Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney Adam Hunt
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