There is a general standard for what a roadside sobriety test will look like, literally written by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the Executive Branch of the U.S.government and part of the Department of Transportation. NHTSA’s mission is to “Save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes. All police officers in Rhode Island are trained to administer the “Standardised Field Sobriety Tests” (SFST) from a NHTSA manual, and must comply with the strict format that these tests are to be conducted under.
Just as all people aren’t the same, all police officers don’t necessarily follow the same strict test guidelines in the field. Officers can be uncertified (NHTSA training must be recertified annually throughout the officer’s career), not properly trained, cut corners and just plain old tired and forget things. This lack of consistency and/or inaccurate performance of the roadside SFST’s can give defense attorneys ground for “throwing out” these evidentiary tests and working out better plea bargains and/or developing triable issues.
Attorney Archambault is intimately familiar with the SFST’s and the NHTSA format and procedures that must be strictly followed, having been a police officer himself. He knows first-hand how difficult it is for prosecutors to prove cases where there is error on the part of the officer, and he knows what to do as a defense attorney when these SFST strict guidelines aren’t followed. Clearly, your SFST may not be the same format or procedure as given to everyone else. Law Enforcement uses these simple physical tests and even some chemical tests (Preliminary Breath Test, or “PBT”) to help police determine indicators of intoxication and thereby prove their case. These tests can be fairly reliable in signifying that the driver has been drinking before operating a vehicle, and it takes a skilled attorney to analyze your case to determine if proper NHTSA procedure was followed. Attorney Archambault is that attorney.
There are three basic and standardized NHTSA tests that an officer might request a potentially intoxicated driver to submit to: The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), The “Walk and Turn” and “One Leg Stand.” Each SFST is a fairly simple physical test, the performance of which wouldn’t pose a challenge to a sober individual. The tests are difficult for an intoxicated driver. The concept of “divided attention” and the totality of these tests, which instructions may include walking in a straight line, heel to toe, standing with one leg out or up, or tracking an object’s movement with the involuntary jerkiness of your eyes, give law enforcement the collective evidence they need to prove their case. Of course, if a person is sober, they have nothing to worry about.
It’s important to know that these tests have been used by NHTSA for over 40 years and can be on average of 80% accurate in demonstrating that an individual has been drinking and is under the influence. During the tests, the police officer will provide a set of instructions and the suspect will then be asked to carry out the actions. Drunk driving suspects who cannot follow simple instructions or who lose their balance and cannot carry out the tests are more likely to be impaired by alcohol. When performing eye tests, police watch carefully to determine whether your eyes are able to track a smooth line in following the object, and jerky eye movement can be an indicator of drunkenness. All of these tests are designed to “come together” in the overall “totality of the circumstances” in an officer’s ultimate decision in the filed on whether or not to arrest an individual.
A simple physical test won’t prove the exact presence of alcohol, but it provides the police with the “probable cause” (a two-prong concept where a crime has been believed to have been committed and the individual is believed to have committed it) necessary to request that the suspect submit to chemical tests to determine blood alcohol content. These include blood and breath tests (Intoxilyzer 9000). Preliminary Breath Tests (PBTs) are now easily administered at roadside, and although inadmissible in the case in chief, are used to determine roadside intoxication levels or simply the presence of alcohol; suspects are expected to blow into a reader that determines Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC.
Many people who talk with friends who have been pulled over by police or have seen too many movies believe there are magic words to getting out of field sobriety tests, to avoid incriminating themselves and being arrested for a DUI. It’s much simpler than that and refusing an SFST is not a complicated process. SFST’s are 100% voluntary, and you have the right to refuse to take them. Police officers won’t typically explain this to you in the field. They are supposed to “ask you to submit” to these tests. The question spawned in the field on whether or not to take these tests should be answered honestly by the individual based on whether they’ve been drinking alcohol at all (if you haven’t, then of course you should take them), and if they have, how much, what kind and how long ago, and of course whether they’ve been previously injured or in a MVA is clearly a factor in decision making. In short, whether you’ve taken the full SFST’s or refused to take them and were consequently arrested, ask Attorney Archambault how he can help in providing your best defense.