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California's Problem with Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Posted by Terry A. Wapner | Dec 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

While many Fresno drivers may be aware of the standardized field sobriety tests that officers will conduct after stopping a suspected drunk driver, there are non-standardized tests that are at play, too.

The three standardized field sobriety tests are known as the HGN, the Walk and Turn, and the One-Leg Stand. Although these three have their own inaccuracies and commonly lead to unjustified arrests, the non-standardized tests also have their own causes for concern. At least with the standardized tests, there is examination background and various data that can be referred to throughout the trial, there has been less information collected on the non-standardized methods.

One very common non-standardized field sobriety test that is used by California law enforcement is the method known as the Finger Count Test. When this test is being conducted, the driver will be asked to exit the vehicle and stand with his feet slightly apart with one hand extended directly in front of him and his palm facing up. Next, the driver will be instructed to use his thumb in order to touch the tip of each of his fingers while he counts out loud.

Another non-standardized field sobriety test is one called the Finger to Nose Test. Here, the driver will be asked to stand with her feet together and have her arms raised horizontally at a 90 degree angle. She will be instructed to keep her eyes closed and begin to extend her hands (one at a time) directly in front of her body. She must keep her arm bent at the elbow and then touch her nose with the tip of her finger before she returns her arm to her side.

These tests seem pretty easy, but each have been constructed in such a way that most drivers will fail. As previously noted, these methods are not considered as standardized field sobriety tests - this means that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has declined to approve them. Because of this, there is no set list of guidelines that an officer must abide by when administering the tests. This leads to many officers basically making up their own rules each and every time they ask a driver to perform a test. For example, during the Finger Count Test, one officer may have the driver count in multiples of five, while another may have the driver count backwards.

Clearly this type of practice will lead to inaccurate results. Not only are there no set guidelines for an officer to follow, but the officer may allow his own opinions to influence these tests. If the driver makes a counting error during the Finger Count Test, he will likely fail the test and be arrested for DUI. Even something as innocent as beginning  to count before being instructed to do so will cause the driver to fail.

Some states have begun to outlaw these types of non-standardized tests, but California isn't one of them. This is why it is so important to reach out to an experienced DUI defense attorney right here in Fresno. I have worked for many years in this area of law and understand what it takes for you to be found not guilty. Call my office today!

About the Author

Terry A. Wapner

Terry A. Wapner confines his practice to the defense of persons accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and related crimes.


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