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OUI-Field Sobriety Tests

An OUI traffic stop can be a frightening and stressful situation. As the police officer approaches your vehicle you may start thinking about what is going to happen next, you may start thinking about whether you could get arrested. Most people do not fully understand their rights when it comes to a potential OUI situation. This blog will briefly touch on some of the more misunderstood aspects concerning field sobriety tests.

Purpose of Field Sobriety Tests

You have likely heard about police field sobriety tests. I am sure you have seen the infamous walk in a straight-line test most movies and television shows portray. Police officers have many different field sobriety techniques, from observing your behavior and body language, to your coordination, to a portable breath test. All of these field tests are the Police Officer’s means to gather probable cause to make an arrest.  The most common field sobriety tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, the alphabet test, the finger to nose test, the counting test, and the one-legged stand test.

However, did you know you have a right to refuse the Officer’s request? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that a person’s refusal to perform field sobriety tests cannot be used against them as evidence. Commonwealth v. McGrail, 419 Mass. 774 (1995). If you refuse a portable breath test, you will normally be fined. Your refusal also, in most circumstances, cannot be used against you in any subsequent court matter. Even if you are arrested and taken to the police station you can still refuse the calibrated blood alcohol test.  If you refuse this test, the consequence will usually be a suspended driver’s license. However, if there is no subsequent DUI conviction the license suspension is often reversed.

It is important to remember the following point. Without field sobriety tests and without breathalyzer tests the prosecutor, at trial, may be limited solely to the Police Officer’s subjective observations. With proper representation, the lack of evidence can become a substantial hurdle for the prosecution to overcome.

Admissibility of Field Sobriety Tests.

Most field sobriety tests are inadmissible in court. The majority of field sobriety tests lack scientific reliability. The tests are subjective. Most importantly the field sobriety tests are not probative of guilt and should therefore not be mentioned in front of a jury.

The alphabet, finger to nose, and counting test are not approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for court use. A defense attorney should therefor move to exclude such evidence before presentation to a jury.

The NHTSA has approved the horizontal gaze test, walk and turn test, and one-legged stand test for court approval. However, there are methods to properly attack the validity and admissibility of such tests. The NHTSA has also listed eight indicators of impairment for officers to look for concerning the walk and turn test. Similarly, the NHTSA has noted four indicators concerning the one-legged stand test.

There have been important court holdings concerning the horizontal gaze test. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the horizontal gaze test cannot be admitted into evidence without a showing of the test’s reliability and that the test was administered by someone properly qualified to do so.  419 Mass. 774 (1995). Commonwealth v. Sands, 424 Mass. 184 (1997). In most circumstances, the prosecution is unable to meet the necessary standards held in the Sands decision, and therefore the test’s results become inadmissible.

Lake Shore Legal

If you have been charged with an OUI contact Lake Shore Legal today. Our attorneys can analyze the specific facts that led up to your arrest. Further, our attorneys can explain what, if any, field sobriety test evidence may be admissible in court. As mentioned above, with proper representation and zealous advocacy, many of the approved field sobriety testing methods can be attacked and potentially excluded from evidence.  Contact us today. (508) 943-7800

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