Grading Field Sobriety Tests: "Fail" equals Jail.
May 5th, 2009
Every DUI stop, whether a DUI in Seattle, Bellevue, King County, or a DUI stop elsewhere in Washington State, is likely to involve field sobriety tests. Most people submit to the field sobriety tests on the assumption that (1) they are required to take the tests and (2) if they “pass” the field sobriety tests, the officer will let them go. Both assumptions are mistaken. First, the tests are voluntary and officers should advise a DUI suspect of that fact before asking the suspect to submit to the field sobriety tests. Nobody can be compelled to take the DUI field sobriety tests. Second, although a DUI suspect may believe he has “passed” the tests, it is the officer’s subjective opinion of the DUI suspect’s performance on the tests that determines whether the suspect will go home or to a jail cell. Beyond this, the suspect almost certainly doesn’t even know how passing or failing is determined. For instance, the “walk the line” test is commonly given to DUI suspects, and most people have seen this test demonstrated on police shows on TV. The police don’t call it the “walk the line” test, although one of the instructions for this test is to “walk on the line.” Instead they call it the “Walk and Turn” test, and it is graded in ways that are not known to a citizen stopped for DUI. For instance, officers typically instruct the DUI suspect to walk heel to toe nine steps up the line, turn, and walk nine steps back. The DUI suspect is probably thinking that his “score” would be higher if he showed that he could walk the line perfectly fine say, fifteen steps up and back. If fifteen steps up and back were taken, all on the line, all heel to toe, and without any problems, this performance would not be a “pass” since by taking more than nine steps up and back, the DUI suspect did not exactly follow the instructions given by the officer. Rarely is the suspect informed that strict, “to the letter” compliance with all instructions is a requirement of passing the field sobriety tests, but that it the case. The only way to “pass” the field sobriety tests is to literally and exactly follow each and every instruction given by the officer while showing no sway, lack of coordination, or imbalance of any kind. Needless to say, such perfection is difficult even in the best of conditions, and it is nearly impossible in a dark, noisy, roadside setting. Fortunately, every person arrested for DUI in Washington State can get a second opinion on his performance of the field sobriety tests by placing the “pass or fail” decision in the hands of a higher authority – a jury composed of fellow citizens. An experienced DUI defense attorney can “even the playing field” by showing a jury just how difficult it is to “pass” the field sobriety tests, especially when the accused was not told beforehand how the tests would be graded.