Last updated on November 2, 2021

People Generally Consent to Field Sobriety Testing in the Hopes of Receiving Leniency from the Police Officer

Interviewer: Do you think that people typically agree because of an intimidation factor? Would that be an accurate assumption?

Paul Tafelski: I think, having watched hundreds of these videotapes of people getting arrested and watching them go through the field sobriety tests and then get arrested, I would say that most people just are caught off-guard, and when the officer is talking to them, they’re still hoping that they’re going to be able to catch a break and get released by the officer.

Unfortunately, the officers these days almost never let people go because they’re afraid to get fired themselves for the same reason, because these videotapes are recording everything and if somehow there’s proof that they let you go, they’re afraid they’re going to get fired.

I think, for most people, it’s less of an intimidation factor than just they hope that if they cooperate, the officer will give them a break.

The Walk and Turn Test is Administered to Check if Instructions are Followed and Balance is Maintained

Interviewer: What is the walk-and-turn or walk-a-straight-line test about and what does it consist of?

Paul Tafelski:Usually what they do is they will tell you to listen to their instructions before you begin. They’re waiting to see if people just try to start before they finish the instructions. Second, they will demonstrate the test, and most officers will tell the people to take nine steps while placing their heel to their toe, and then turn around in a sort of coordinated turn, and then take nine steps back.

They’re looking to see, can you walk a straight line, can you remember the directions, can you count the nine steps, and then can you do a proper turn, and can you remember to take nine steps back, and at each and every step, do you touch your toe to your heel. They’re looking at all of those things that they refer to as “clues” to determine whether somebody passes.

Even if You Did Anything Partially Wrong, the Police Will Determine That You Failed the Test

Generally speaking, the police will determine that you failed that test if you did anything even partially wrong. A lot of times, the way the cameras are pointing at a person, you can’t see their feet on the camera. You can see them walking the straight line and you can tell usually if they did how many steps by the way their body’s moving, but you can’t usually see their feet, and many times, lo and behold, the police report states that they failed to touch their heel to their toe.

There’s really no way to objectively verify whether that’s true or not, and so that’s another reason not to take these tests because a lot of times the police report will say the person failed and, from what you can see on the tape, it looks like they passed.

The Majority of Field Sobriety Tests are Not Scientifically Proven

Interviewer: Is there a scientific basis to some of these tests?

Paul Tafelski: Some of the tests have been studied by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and they have been considered valid field sobriety tests. Others, the majority of them, they’re not necessarily scientifically proven, but in many cases, the way people look and how poorly they perform would look to the untrained eye like somebody is drunk or intoxicated, and therefore they end up being very damaging to the defense.

Posted in: DWI
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