Dubious reliability of field sobriety tests not surprising

Field sobriety tests are commonly used by police officers. These tests may not be accurate, and a sober person can be accused of drunk driving.

Virginia residents may have witnessed this scene numerous times while driving, and may have been the subject of such a scene themselves: a car is pulled over by law enforcement and the driver is asked to perform a number of physical tests so officers can make a judgment as to whether drunk driving was involved.

The field sobriety test is a common tool in the arsenal against drinking and driving. However, the methods used to conduct this test may result in innocent people being charged with a crime.

What is involved with the standardized field sobriety test?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, these tests were standardized to include a battery of physical actions that can give officers a clue about a driver's possible drinking. They include the following:

· Horizontal gaze nystagmus - An officer will look at a driver's involuntary eye movements, which are typically more pronounced during intoxication.

· One-leg stand - During this test, the person will be asked to balance on one foot for a specified amount of time, usually 30 seconds.

· Walk-and-turn - This test involves the driver walking in a straight line, then turning around and walking back in the opposite direction.

During a field sobriety test, law enforcement officers may also pay attention to a person's speech, behavior and other aspects that might give a clue as to whether he or she had been drinking.

How accurate are field sobriety tests?

In experiments, claims NBC 29 News, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test was revealed to be the most accurate at 77 percent. The walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests were 68 percent and 65 percent accurate, respectively.

Can a sober person be arrested after a field sobriety test?

Some contend that field sobriety tests are designed to fail. ABC Action News states that those with certain physical or mental conditions might have difficulty passing the test. For example, a person who naturally has problems balancing or is recovering from an injury might not be able to perform the one-leg stand or walk-and-turn without losing his or her balance. An officer might mistakenly think someone with a speech impediment had been drinking too much. Those with cognitive restrictions or who are simply nervous might have difficulty following the instructions regarding the test, and therefore be falsely accused of drunk driving.

All of those who are facing charges have the right to be treated fairly during the court process. It may be helpful to speak with an experienced Virginia defense attorney after an arrest.