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.

Weather, medical conditions, and nerves can all affect your performance. 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.

Common testimony from police officers administering field sobriety tests include:

  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. 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.
  3. 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:

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

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:

  • The Nine Step Walk and Turn is considered 68% reliable under ideal conditions;
  • The One Leg Stand, 65%.

If you have questions about field sobriety tests, you can call Attorney Delsignore at 781-686-5924 or read his numerous blogs on field sobriety testing in Massachusetts.