How Are Field Sobriety Tests Used In Court?

Field Sobriety Tests UseAre Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Admissible In Oklahoma Courts?

SFSTs are admissible in Oklahoma courts, but officers never administer the tests correctly. I’m always able to find something wrong with how the tests were administered. Through the training that I’ve attended, I’ve developed a checklist of over 150 items for DUI arrests. I use that checklist to evaluate the way the tests were administered and whether there were any other potential indicators of intoxication.

Since I always find something wrong with the administration of the tests, I have absolutely no problem putting that information in front of a jury. If there is a video of the test being administered, then I absolutely want it. Somebody looking at a video of a person failing a test might not necessarily be a bad thing because the officer may have done a very poor job of giving the instructions and administering the test.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Always Recorded?

The tests are not always recorded. It’s helpful if there’s video because officers usually administer them incorrectly. It’s very difficult to tell whether the officer administered the test correctly if there is no video. This is why I do everything I can to get the video of the stop and administration of the tests. Sometimes we just get the bodycam, sometimes we just get the dashcam, and sometimes we get both. Of course, it’s best to have both because it gives a great perspective of everything that occurred. What you may not be able to see on the bodycam, you may see on the dashcam and vice versa.

Even with video, it’s most challenging to determine whether the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus was administered correctly because the officer is supposed to move the stimulus in a certain direction at a certain rate. There is no way to tell whether that was done if there is no video. If it’s only recorded on a bodycam, then it can be very difficult to see what’s going on because the stimulus and/or eyes are often out of view of the camera. So, that’s why we try to get as many angles and videos as possible. Sometimes we can get video from other officers or other patrol cars. Their own training says that if they didn’t put something in the report, then it didn’t happen. If it’s not on video and not in the report, then it didn’t happen. If there’s no video and it’s not in the report, then it still didn’t happen.

What Strategies Can Be Used To Refute Field Sobriety Test Results?

The biggest defense strategy is that the test was administered incorrectly. The NHTSA SFST instructor training manual states that the entire test may be invalidated if it is administered incorrectly. There are numerous errors that the officer can commit if they administer the tests incorrectly. Some of these errors are fatal, and others are clue-specific errors. A fatal error has the highest chance of invalidating the entire test. For instance, failing to medically clear somebody is a fatal error on the Walk and Turn. If the officer doesn’t ask the suspect if he or she has any leg, ankle, knee, or inner ear injury prior to the suspect performing the test, then the entire test may be invalid. If the suspect has any of those medical conditions, then that would likely result in their performing the test poorly.

Other strategies include looking at the area where the test was administered. For example, the Walk and Turn has to be done on a relatively smooth and level area. Sometimes, these officers have the suspect perform the test in the grass or on a sloped driveway. Things like that can invalidate a test.

A frequent error on the HGN is the officer moving the stimulus too fast. If it’s moved too fast, then HGN can actually be induced. Frequently, officers don’t hold the stimulus at maximum deviation for four seconds when looking for distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation.

Sometimes, officers have not been trained to administer the tests they’re administering. Most officers are SFST trained. About half of the officers are ARIDE trained. Some ARIDE-trained officers think they’re Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). There are some tests that only DREs are allowed to administer, but ARIDE officers frequently try to administer those despite not having been properly trained on them. And, some officers that have gone through only SFST training will attempt to administer tests that only ARIDE-trained officers are qualified to administer. If an officer has not been properly trained on how to administer the tests, then it’s highly likely that they aren’t administering them correctly and the entire test should be thrown out.

For more information on How Field Sobriety Tests Are Used In Court In Oklahoma, call (405) 633-3420 to speak with an attorney.