In a recent Summit County case, I was successful at convincing the Judge that the arresting officer’s failure to properly administer the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests to my client, rendered the results of the tests unreliable. In fact, so much so, that in the absence of other significant physical characteristics that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the client was operating a vehicle under the influence, the officer did not have sufficient evidence to justify probable cause for the arrest of my client for DUI.
So why are the field tests and the NHTSA standards so important? In order to provide law enforcement officers with a consistent and reliable way of determining whether or not to arrest a driver who they may perceive is under the influence to a degree that they cannot safely operate a motor vehicle, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted extensive research and studies during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The results of that research led NHTSA to establish what are more commonly referred to as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST’s). As part of the research, NHTSA conducted numerous studies and determined that in order for the results of the SFST’s to be a valid and reliable factor in determining whether or not a driver is safe to drive, the SFST’s must be conducted in strict compliance with the standardized testing procedure. Furthermore, to be reliable, the SFST’s must be administered in the standardized manner with the officer assessing the subject’s performance using the standardized clues, and standardized criteria must be employed by the officer to interpret the subject’s performance on the SFST’s. An officer’s failure to comply with all of the elements comprising the “standardization” of the SFST’s, compromises the validity of the tests.
The most recent edition of the NHTSA “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing-Participant Manual” was published in 2006. Despite the fact that every officer receives training on SFST’s during their basic training at POST, you would be surprised how many police officers do not know or understand the NHTSA standards and do not follow those standards when administering field sobriety tests at the roadside, and then subsequently arrest drivers for DUI.
In this case, not only did the officer’s testimony demonstrate that he did not know the proper standards for administering the tests, but the video tape from his patrol car clearly showed undisputable proof that he failed to follow the standards. Armed with this evidence, we prevailed and the Judge granted our Motion to Suppress.
In a last ditch effort to save the case, the prosecutor then attempted to argue that because my client “could” have been arrested for speeding, that my client’s consent to submit to the breath test following his arrest for DUI was still valid and the breath test could be admitted at trial. This argument also failed, and the Court suppressed the client’s breath test leaving only a Speeding violation. The prosecutor has vowed to appeal, which he has the right to do, but I expect that the District Court Judge who reviews the case will reach the same conclusions and the DUI charge will ultimately be DISMISSED once and for all!! Stay tuned.