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Researchers Suggest You Don't Have to Be Drunk To Fail a Sobriety Test

Posted by Steve Karimi | Apr 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

The likelihood of a DUI conviction rests heavily on the subjective account of the arresting police officer. This judgment, whether right or wrong, influences the chances of an arrest, the possibility of a person's license being revoked, and the outcome of their trial. An officer's testimony and the contents of a police report are considered crucial in determining the innocence or guilt of a defendant. A person's performance on a standardized field sobriety test is also a huge part of the equation.

In theory, the decision to let someone go or arrest them is based on if a person passes or fails these tests. Therefore, in order for them to be considered reasonable and fair, each officer is required to score them by an objective standard. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that these tests can possibly be graded objectively, despite the fact that many officers grade score these sobriety tests subjectively. Most importantly, because of an officer's role as a public servant in society, people assume that if law enforcement declares that a person is too drunk to drive based on their sole observation, it must be true.

The fact that many people hold this assumption is understandable, considering that they may envision these tests to involve a staggering, burping driver who slurs their words when stopped. But in reality, these stops are rarely that clear-cut. And although many people conclude that officers should be able to easily distinguish between a sober and an intoxicated person, a study reveals that this is often not the case.

Dr. Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University conducted a study examining the validity of standardized field sobriety tests. Members of his staff recorded several individuals performing six common tests and showed them to 14 adequately trained police officers. They were given the task of determining which subjects were considered too impaired from alcohol to drive. However, unbeknownst to the officers, each of the subjects being scrutinized had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.00. A whopping 46% of these innocent people were deemed illegally intoxicated and by the officers, a rather disconcerting conclusion to say the least, especially when applied to real scenarios. This means innocent people would have been arrested almost half the time based on these officers' judgments, according to this study.

But the fact that officers may not be objectively scoring sobriety tests is only half the problem. The tests themselves are not a scientifically proven method upon which to base a DUI charge. After periodic revisions over the years through studies conducted by federally referred group Southern California Research Institute (SCRI), the margin of error for these tests were cut down to roughly 30%.

However, the accuracy of these sudden results has been challenged by many. Some researchers obtained the statistical evidence conducted by the SCRI for examination and concluded that subjects used in their studies had BAC's far over the legal limit, and that breathalyzer results were taken into account. Overall, the researchers concluded that officers were still overestimating the intoxication levels of test subjects who underwent field sobriety tests. Further proving that in some cases a person's impairment can be exaggerated in the eyes of officers.

These facts affirm the scary reality of those pulled over by an officer for suspicion of a DUI: A person can pass a sobriety test with one officer and fail one with another, it's a shot in the dark.

If you have been charged with a DUI, it does not mean you will be convicted. Call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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