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What Are (And What Are Not) Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Dayton DUI Attorney Charles Rowland > Uncategorized  > What Are (And What Are Not) Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

What Are (And What Are Not) Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

standardized field sobriety testsThe dream of implementing Standardized Field Sobriety Tests has long been a goal of law enforcement.  Extensive government testing was begun in the 1970’s to determine a scientifically valid way of helping police officers detect intoxication in drivers under suspicion of drunk driving.  Prior to this undertaking, officers were doing their best to gather evidence of drunk driving, or simply not arresting for the offense due to the difficulty of proving impairment in court.  Some more ingenious tests included throwing coins on ground; if the suspect could pick them up without falling over, they must be sober.  Other popular tests that officers used included:

  • The Rhomberg stationary balance test wherein the driver stands, feet together, and leans the head back to look up at the sky while holding their arms out to the side;
  • An alphabet test where the officer asks the subject to say the alphabet from D to P (some officers asked a subject to say the alphabet backward);
  • The finger-to-nose test: this requires the driver might to close his or her eyes and bring the finger around to touch the nose; and/or
  • The hand-pat test: the driver is asked to extend a hand in front, palm upwards. The other hand is then placed on top of the first hand, palm downwards. The driver then ‘pats’ the lower hand with the upper hand by rotating it, so that first the lower hand is patted with the palm of the upper hand and then with the back of the upper hand;

The problem was that no science supported these tests and the manner of administering the tests fell far short of “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.”  The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) was tasked with determining which tests, if any, could be correlated with impairment by alcohol.  After extensive testing, NHTSA determined that three tests were specific for alcohol intoxication: the HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus), the walk & turn test and the one leg stand test. This three-test battery are now referred to as the “standardized field sobriety tests.”

All other tests were eliminated.  NHTSA did acknowledge that, while there is a place for using distracting questions, confusion or divided-attention tasks, it cannot be called “scientific” for purposes of in-court testimony.  The current version of the NHTSA manual used to instruct law enforcement throughout the United States allows for non-standardized tests to be a part of the officer’s determination in establishing the lower legal standard of reasonable and articulable suspicion.  The officer uses the information from these tests to determine if the suspect should be removed from the vehicle for standardized field sobriety tests.

If, however, the officer is using the non-standardized field sobriety tests to establish probable cause for an OVI arrest, he or she is on a faulty scientific and legal footing.  Your DUI lawyer will challenge these tests as not probative of intoxication and that they are irrelevant for purposes of determining impairment.  At least one case, Rocky River v. Horvath, 2002 WL 538755 (Ohio Ct. App. 8th Dist. Cuyahoga 2002) has decided that these non-standardized tests are improper because they have no standardized application and they have not been approved by NHTSA. [Note: this opinion was written by now-Supreme Court Justice Terrence O’Donnell].  The Second District Court of Appeals has ruled that non-standardized tests can come in under the totality of the circumstances used to reach a probable cause determination. State v. Rajehel, 2003-Ohio-3975.  The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the tests may be used as lay evidence of intoxication. Brooklyn Hts. v. Yee, 2009-Ohio-4552.

You need the skills of an experienced attorney who can properly challenge the reasonable suspicion and probable cause determinations made by the arresting officer.  Charles M. Rowland II has been trained in the latest NHTSA Standardized Field Sobriety Test methods (Walden & Platt, March 2010).  He is just as qualified as law enforcement to administer and evaluate the performance of a subject on the standardized three-test battery and to challenge non-scientific  “stupid-human tricks” that an officer may employ.

OVI Attorney Charles M. Rowland II dedicates his practice to defending the accused drunk driver in the Miami Valley and throughout Ohio.  He has the credentials and the experience to win your case and has made himself Dayton’s choice for drunk driving defense. Contact Charles Rowland by phone at (937) 318-1384 or toll-free at 1-888-ROWLAND (888-769-5263). If you need assistance after hours, call the 24/7 DUI Hotline at (937) 776-2671.  You can have DaytonDUI at your fingertips by downloading the DaytonDUI Android App or have DaytonDUI sent directly to your mobile device by texting DaytonDUI (one word) to 50500.  Follow DaytonDUI on Facebook, @DaytonDUI on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Pheed and Pintrest or get RSS of the Ohio DUI blog.  You can emailCharlesRowland@DaytonDUI.com or visit his office at 2190 Gateway Dr., Fairborn, Ohio 45324.  “All I do is DUI defense.”

 Find Standardized Field Sobriety Tests information and other city-specific info at the following links:

FairbornDaytonSpringfieldKetteringVandaliaXeniaMiamisburgSpringboro,Huber HeightsOakwoodBeavercreekCenterville 

Charles Rowland


Charles M. Rowland II has been representing the accused drunk driver for over 20 years. Contact him at (937) 318-1384 if you find yourself facing a DUI (now called OVI) charge.

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