Attorney Challenging Field Sobriety Test Results
If you have been arrested for DUI, you probably had to take some roadside sobriety tests: standing on one leg, walking and turning or watching a finger go back and forth before your eyes. The fact is, these tests are highly problematic and usually easily defeated in court.
I am William V. Cristman, the principal attorney at Cristman Law Office, PLLCI have spent years studying the scientific and legal implications of these tests, and understanding how to defeat test results when trying DUI defense cases.
The Purpose Of Field Sobriety Tests
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established the universal standards for roadside DUI testing. The Vermont police are not adequately trained on these standards, and the state’s own manual only contains a small percentage of the information on the national standards.
“With more than a decade of experience and extensive research into the standardized testing procedures, I can show that failure to conform to the national standards for roadside testing will nullify any results gleaned from these tests. Eliminating the evidence of roadside test results can go a long way to defeating a DUI charge.” — William Cristman, Attorney at Law
As a lawyer, I fight to eliminate evidence of results for the three main roadside tests:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus: For the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) to have any scientific reliability, an expert optometrist needs to be present to gather and interpret the data. There are 36 other conditions, not related to alcohol consumption, that could lead to failure of the HGN test. The testing procedures are extremely subjective. A person is considered to have ‘failed’ the test when at least four out of six clues are present. However, almost no one can take the test without exhibiting at least four clues. Further, the test is supposed to be conducted slowly, with four-second pauses between re-tests, but the police are not adequately trained to conduct the tests properly, and they usually do it much more quickly than they should.
- Walk and turn: In many instances, Vermont police conducting this test do it incorrectly. The regulations state that there can be a half inch between the heel and the toe, but the police tell people that the heel and toe need to touch. There needs to be a clearly designated line for the tester to follow, but the police rarely establish this. Further, the regulations state that a small amount of arm use is acceptable, though the police rarely allow for this.
- One-legged stand: Most people have a lot of trouble balancing on one leg without swinging their arms a little to balance. Staggering while balancing on one leg is no indication of alcohol consumption.
To compound these problems with the individual tests, the police receive overtime pay for working on the ‘DUI Bounty Program.’ In this program, they are required to meet a quota of 1.75 traffic stops per hour. The police have a strong incentive to make these arrests, which makes them all the more likely to cut corners and interpret the data unfavorably for the people they stop for DUI, leading to unjust arrests.