Are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) Reliable?

When law enforcement pulls over a motorist suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or other substances, a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is often given to correctly judge the current state of the driver. Failure to successfully complete one of the many tasks involved with the assessment can result in a DUI arrest and become evidence in a trial. There are many variables, however, that factor into the reliability of this procedure. For one, errors by the officer giving the exam can put his or her findings in doubt. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration holds strict guidelines on every step of the sobriety test.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

One example to illustrate mistakes an officer could make while performing the procedure is the “horizontal gaze nystagmus” test. In this part of the exam, the driver follows an outside stimulus like a flashlight. The person tracks the moving catalyst with his or her eyes to prove they have proper reaction time to operate a vehicle. If the driver shows rapid movements in the eye it could result in an arrest. Although the test sounds fairly simple for the police to administer, there are several errors to be made that can invalidate its findings.

There are four phases that require fourteen passes of the catalyst. There are rigid guidelines to all of these steps. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has rules regarding where the driver should be placed, how far from the face of the individual the stimulus object should be placed, how quickly the catalyst should be moved, the maximum angle possible, and the minimum length for the procedure. If the cumulative time for the test is under eighty-six seconds, the operation is invalid due to being too hasty. It is important to note that Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test has an error rate of 23%, meaning nearly one in four tests are deemed invalid. Given that it is only one part of the sobriety test, it becomes clear that not every evaluation is administered with total accuracy.

Hire a Trained DWI Lawyer

When fighting a DUI case, it is important to have a NJ lawyer on your side that knows the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s rules extremely well. Small slips made by the acting officer could be the difference between a test being admissible in court or being invalid. It is the job of law enforcement to follow the rules and codes and not doing so invalidates the activity. Therefore, a field sobriety test is never 100% reliable or able to determine conviction. There must always be an investigation by a legal team to make sure no steps were skipped over for the sake of the driver.

The team at Villani & DeLuca is highly familiar with the NHTSA’s rules and regulations. The DUI attorneys at Villani & DeLuca have undergone the same field sobriety test training that police officers receive to better acquaint themselves with the procedure. Failing a field sobriety test does not always mean the driver will be found guilty or actually is guilty of a DUI and Villani & DeLuca have the tools to properly examine every case. Contact Villani & DeLuca today at 888-389-9533 to get a free consultation on your DWI arrest.