Field sobriety tests have long been used by New York law enforcement officers when they have reasonable suspicion that a motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These tests have also been known to be severely flawed due to inability to allow for individual issues that make them susceptible to appearing impaired during the test.
The tests typically consist of a walking procedure along with inspection of eye movement and ability to count backwards, both of which can present problems for certain individuals. Because of these potential problems, the courts have determined that field sobriety test results cannot be used as material evidence to convict in a DUI case, but they can be used as reasonable suspicion to pursue an arrest. They can also be challenged in court.
The walking test
The walking test is typically the first component of a field sobriety test. The heel-to-toe walking procedure can be reliable in assessing intoxication in mobile individuals who have no walking issues, but it is highly ineffective for those with mobility problems. Professionals in the field claim that reliability ranges from 80 to 90%.
Unqualified officer testing
Many states have designated officers who are specifically trained in conducting DUI field sobriety tests. The problem is that some officers will not summons these trained professionals, and some local law enforcement jurisdictions do not have them. Results are delivered as testimony from officers who can be cross-examined in court, especially when no alcohol intoxication documentation is presented.
Failure to consider personal disabilities
The field sobriety test used by most officers is deficient in the fact that it is a one-test-fits-all approach to determining intoxication. This problem alone makes it insufficient as material evidence in a trial. Not everyone can be tested accurately using the physically demanding procedure.
For example, individuals who are on prescribed medications can have latency issues with medications and still not be intoxicated while driving. With cases of DUI in New York that do not involve alcohol use, contesting field sobriety testimony is often part of a defense strategy.