Interviewer: What is the purpose of the field sobriety tests?
Michael Munoz: Law enforcement developed field sobriety tests to try to find ways to identify when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs after they’ve been operating a motor vehicle. Field sobriety tests are essentially a tool that they use that helps them try to determine whether or not someone’s impaired and that evidence that they gain from having someone do the field sobriety tests is what they use try to establish a probable cause to determine whether or not they should arrest somebody for DUI. Law enforcement gives a ton of training on how to do field sobriety tests, do them effectively and the law enforcement is supposed to do them exactly how they are trained for them to be effective.
The Field Sobriety Tests Were Instituted Through Tests Conducted by the NHTSA
Interviewer: Is there a scientific basis behind these tests?
Michael Munoz: Law enforcement claims that there is a scientific basis. They claim that they did studies through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and then, they claim that there are pure review studies that make the field sobriety tests scientific. They claim that if you do these field sobriety tests the way they’re supposed to be done over and over again that they claim that if you hit certain threshold, it’ll show whether or not somebody’s impaired by alcohol or drugs to operate a motor vehicle. What really field sobriety tests are doing is they’re measuring the divided attention.
Field Sobriety Tests are Employed to Measure the Divided Attention of a Motorist
Divided attention is the concept of doing multiple things at one while you’re driving a motor vehicle. For example, when you’re driving and you’re trying to stay within the speed limit, you’re making sure other vehicles aren’t, you know, too close to you and you’re looking at rearview mirror and maybe changing the radio station and putting on the blinker, hitting the brakes, all those things are what we call using your divided attention. The concept of field sobriety tests is for an officer to evaluate the fact that you listen to instructions and do physical tests while you’re getting these instructions and whether or not you can do them effectively.
The Point at Which a Field Sobriety Test is Generally Administered in a Traffic Stop
Interviewer: At what point, is typically a field sobriety test administered?
Michael Munoz: What happens is once an officer decides that he’s going to conduct a DUI investigation, he’s likely probably already pulled you over, stopped the vehicle, asked you whether or not you’ve been drinking and then, if you’d like to do the field sobriety test, he’ll ask you to step out of the vehicle so that he can administer the tests. Once he does that, people should know that they are not required in Arizona to complete the field sobriety tests, they are allowed to refuse the tests. Sometimes officers will mislead people into thinking that if you refuse the field sobriety tests, that is a refusal of giving blood or breath and therefore, they can take their license and that’s just not true. People are allowed to refuse the field sobriety tests and they should.
Performing the Field Sobriety Tests is Generally Harmful for the Defendant
Field sobriety tests are the tools for the officers to try to gain evidence against that person, so not doing the field sobriety tests will help you. They’re going to be asking to do these tests after a vehicle stop or after they approach your vehicle and they think you’re under the influence. The major problems with field sobriety tests are they don’t take into account the subject who’s been tested their history and where that person is coming from in a sense that what’s that person’s age, does that person have physical disabilities, do they have knee issues, ankle issues, do they have hearing issues, do they have eyesight issues. Every single person who’s approached by police has different issues and we all hear and perceive things differently.
The Result of the Field Sobriety Tests is Only Considered Viable if they are Administered Accurately
What a field sobriety test does is it tries to say, “Everyone should be able to do these tests when the fact is that that’s just not true”, and it fails to recognize that everyone is different when they go in these tests and that’s some of the problems with these tests. Another problem with field sobriety tests is the only that they can be evaluated, according to NHTSA, is if the officers do them the same as they were trained every single time. Some of my experience is when you interview officers; you find out that officers don’t always do them the same. They take shortcuts, they don’t do them exactly like they were trained and so, that really takes away the effectiveness of the tests and that is the problem with the tests as well.