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Field sobriety tests are subjective, give false results

If a police officer pulls you over and asks if you have been drinking, it is likely that he or she already has a suspicion. Whether you had a couple of beers with your friends or you have not consumed a drop of alcohol, what happens next should concern you. If the officer asks you to step out of the car and submit to a series of field sobriety tests, you have the right to say no, and you may be wise to exercise that right.

You may assume that you are not over Maryland's legal limit of .08 blood alcohol concentration. However, your performance during police field sobriety tests may give officers reason to place you under arrest. Even if you are well under the limit, there is no guarantee that you will pass these tests. This may seem shocking when you have so much at stake.

Should you comply with the tests?

The results of field sobriety tests are subjective based on the officer's observations, assumptions and biases. In fact, one study showed the same video of a field sobriety test to several different officers, and each officer scored the test differently.

The three standard tests law enforcement agencies use assess the reflexes of your eyes, your ability to follow directions and your balance, among other things. Officers score your performance on each test, and if your total is lower than 85%, you face arrest for DUI. However, there may be dozens of reasons why one might fail any of the three tests. For example, a poor performance on the one-leg stand may occur for any of these reasons:

  • The ground is uneven.
  • The lights and passing traffic frighten or distract you.
  • You cannot hear or understand the officer's instructions because of the noisy environment.
  • You have low blood pressure or an ear infection that makes your balance uncertain.
  • You have been fasting or have missed a meal.
  • You are taking certain medications or undergoing chemotherapy.
  • You have sciatica, a herniated disk or other back, hip, or leg issues.
  • Your feet hurt, or your shoes make you unsteady.
  • You are overweight, have arthritis or suffer from other medical conditions.

These are only a few of the reasons why it may be wise to politely refuse to submit to field sobriety tests. The questionable results of many subjective sobriety tests are also a good reason to seek legal advocacy as soon as possible after an arrest for DUI.

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