Many people come in for a DUI defense consult and tell me that they know they passed the field sobriety tests, yet the cops arrested them anyway. Before we get to what it means to pass the tests, it is important to understand what these tests are and why they matter.
There are only three accepted and approved field sobriety tests; they make up a test battery known as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed these tests in the 1970s at the urging of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as part of a national effort to curb drunk driving.
Prior to the development of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, officers would try anything they could to get people to fail, even if it was not possible to pass these tests. For example, on the standard police form used in DUI arrests in Washington, DC, called a 163A, there was a test known as the “finger touch”. Essentially, you would be instructed to touch your thumb and your index together and say “one” aloud.
You were then required touch your thumb to your middle finger as say “two” and so on until you get to your pinky and then repeat the test in reverse order. This sounded simple enough, but the instructions directed individuals to count on their fingers until reaching “five” and then return to the starting finger. This is of course difficult to do because humans do not have six fingers on each hand. That sounds unfair, but that’s okay because unfortunately, you just failed the field sobriety test.
Eventually, courts were getting suspicious of these fake and unreliable tests, so the NHTSA set out to outline more official tests. As a result, tests such as the Walk and Turn (WAT), the One Legged Stand (OLS), and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) were created. According to the HGN test, the officer asks you to follow his finger, pen, or flashlight with your eyes.
There are a number of questionable studies that support the validity of these tests. However, these tests are now used by every major police force, including the many agencies in Washington, DC that make drunk driving arrests. Despite the purported scientific support for these tests being able to accurately predict when one has a BAC of .10 or higher, there is actually very little science behind them. Therefore, there are many ways for your experienced Washington, DC DUI attorney to fight these tests in court. This is why you should ensure that your attorney actually takes cases to trial and does not plea his or her clients guilty. Unfortunately, this is what happens each and every day in the Washington, DC Superior Court.
One of the best ways to challenge a DUI charge in the District of Columbia, is to demonstrate to the court that not only are these tests not that scientifically supported, but that the officer didn’t even follow the directions properly for administering and scoring the tests required by NHTSA. As it turns out, the only thing writing in bold text in their large manual is that the tests must be given exactly per the instructions.