Common Mistakes Made During Field Sobriety Tests and How to Avoid Them

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are procedures law enforcement officers use to determine if a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. These tests are conducted roadside and often serve as crucial evidence in determining whether to make an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI).

However, the accuracy of these tests can be influenced by various factors, leading to errors that might unfairly incriminate individuals who are not actually impaired. Understanding these common mistakes and knowing how to avoid them can be critical in protecting your rights and ensuring a fair assessment if you find yourself in this situation.

Lack of Awareness of Your Rights

One of the most common mistakes individuals make during FSTs is not being fully aware of their rights. In many jurisdictions, you have the right to refuse field sobriety tests without legal consequences. However, refusing a chemical test (breathalyzer, blood, or urine test) after an arrest may lead to administrative penalties, such as a license suspension. Knowing your rights and understanding the potential consequences of refusal is crucial.

Misunderstanding Test Instructions

During FSTs, officers provide instructions for tasks like walking in a straight line or balancing on one foot. Misinterpreting or misunderstanding these instructions can lead to errors. It's essential to listen carefully, ask for clarification if needed, and ensure you fully understand what is being asked of you before beginning the test.

Nervousness or Anxiety

Feeling nervous or anxious during an FST is natural, especially considering the stress of being pulled over by law enforcement. However, these emotions can affect your performance and may be misinterpreted as signs of impairment. Remaining as calm as possible, focusing on the instructions given, and performing the tasks to the best of your ability can help mitigate the impact of nervousness.

Medical Conditions or Injuries

Certain medical conditions or physical injuries can significantly impact your ability to perform FSTs accurately. Issues with balance, coordination, or mobility can result in difficulty completing these tests, leading to potential misinterpretation by law enforcement. If you have a medical condition or injury that could affect your performance, it's crucial to inform the officer before the tests begin.

Environmental Factors

The environment in which FSTs are conducted can also affect the accuracy of the tests. Uneven surfaces, poor lighting, distracting noises, or adverse weather conditions might compromise your ability to perform well. Unfortunately, these factors are often beyond your control. However, you can politely request a more suitable environment if you believe external conditions could impact your test performance.

Improper Administration by Officers

The accuracy of FSTs heavily relies on proper administration by law enforcement officers. Mistakes in giving instructions, demonstrating the tasks, or assessing your performance can lead to unreliable results. While you cannot control an officer's actions, it's essential to pay attention to how the tests are administered and document any discrepancies or irregularities.

Failing to Follow Legal Advice

Seeking legal guidance after being pulled over or arrested for suspicion of DUI/DWI is crucial. Failing to consult with an attorney or disregarding legal advice can be detrimental. An experienced attorney can provide valuable guidance on how to handle FSTs, understand your rights, and navigate the legal process effectively.

How to Avoid These Mistakes

  • Know Your Rights: Understanding what you are and are not obligated to do during a traffic stop is essential.
  • Stay Calm and Focused: Despite the stress of the situation, maintaining composure can help you perform better during FSTs.
  • Communicate Clearly: If you have a medical condition or feel environmental factors might affect the test, politely communicate this to the officer.
  • Seek Legal Counsel: Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can provide invaluable support and guidance throughout the process.

Field sobriety tests are designed to assess impairment, but various factors can affect their accuracy. Knowing your rights, understanding test instructions, remaining calm, and seeking legal advice are crucial steps to minimize the risk of errors during FSTs. While these tests can be intimidating, being informed and prepared can significantly impact the outcome if you find yourself facing such circumstances.

Remember, every situation is unique, and seeking legal counsel tailored to your specific case is always advisable. Understanding these common mistakes and knowing how to avoid them can help protect your rights and ensure a fair evaluation during field sobriety tests.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Orange County, CA, contact Braden & Tucci today to let us defend you against serious charges and penalties.