What does it mean to fail field sobriety tests when arrested for DUI in Massachusetts?

You have received a copy of your Massachusetts OUI police report, and it says you failed. You feel panicked. Don’t worry; there are several factors that can contribute to an officer claiming you failed field sobriety tests; in most cases, when I look at the report I will find you did very well.

In about 75% of the police reports that I read, I find that the field sobriety tests helps our case more than the Commonwealth, based on my training in how the exercises are suppose to be conducted, scored and what the officer omitted in the police report.

Factors that can make Field Sobriety Tests Unreliable:

Weather, medical conditions, and nerves can all impact your performance on field sobriety tests. Also, on almost all reports police officers will claim failure. What this failure means will vary from case to case.

First, a field sobriety test is based on the officer’s opinion, not on fact. Basically, the officer is stating that in his opinion, you did not follow his instructions. However, while the test may indicate a perceived inability to follow instructions, it may also indicate the police officer did not perform the test correctly.

Officers do not always follow their police training when administering field sobriety tests. This is often demonstrated on the report itself. For example, the police report may indicate that the officer didn’t follow his police training in administering the one leg stand or walk and turn test.

Here are 4 Common mistakes officer make in administering field sobriety tests:

  1. Officers unaware of the number of clues they are scoring on each test. For example, the nine-step walk and turn has 8 clues. If the officer does not know this, they may score incorrectly.
  2. Some officer require a motorist to put hold their leg six to eight inches off of the ground on the one leg stand. The test require it be only 6 inches off of the ground so to the extent you were aiming for 8, the officer made the test harder than it was suppose to be.

  3. Officers unsure of how to judge a particular part of the test. For example, many officers do not know that a person does not have to literally touch their feet together when performing the walk and turn test, but only need to keep them ½ inch apart.
  4. 
Some officers admit they have not read the police manual and instead perform the test based only on their experiences as an officer.

In fact, many officers make field sobriety tests harder by not understanding the correct scoring. Additionally, the police report will not reveal additional factors that may have contributed to your failure, such as:

  • Weather conditions
  • Medical conditions that make the exercise more difficult
  • Exercises that were unfair because you were wearing improper shoes.
  • Nerves: often your nerves will make performing exercises under pressure difficult.

Are field Sobriety Tests even useful to predict whether someone is under the influence of alcohol?

Often a case can still be won even if an officer claims you failed the field sobriety test. Additionally, it may be argued the test itself does not demonstrate anything worthwhile for the jury to even consider. The field sobriety tests have very little reliability:

If you have questions about field sobriety tests, you can call Attorney Delsignore at 781-686-5924. For further reading on field sobriety tests, you can visit these pages which contain video explaining the flaws with field sobriety tests.