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Roadside testing for drunk driving: not without issues, challenges

On behalf of Pearson & Paris, P.C. posted in Drunk Driving Charges on Monday, February 22, 2016.

"[A] contentious bit of policing to this day."

That is one depiction of so-called field sobriety tests that police officers in Colorado and nationally administer on roadway shoulders to suspected drunk drivers.

Perhaps you've seen those tests being conducted in real time, while whizzing by a detained motorist who is on the side of the road with a flashlight in his face tracking eye movements.

Or perhaps your experience with formally deemed Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) is a bit more upfront and personal. Maybe you have had the singular and unpleasant experience of being stopped by flashing lights and then told to walk a straight line or stand in front of a cop on one leg.

How valid are such "measurements" in gauging behind-the-wheel inebriation, and how much should they be relied upon in court?

Law enforcement officials of course state that a high degree of reliability attaches to the holy triad of SFSTs, namely, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk-and-Turn test, and the One-Leg-Stand test.

Notwithstanding their routinely uniform view regarding the efficacy of those roadside challenges, though, legions of detained motorists and their defense attorneys have cited SFST shortcomings, and judges have not been persuaded by test outcomes in all cases.

And there is of course a reason for that, which starts which the inherent subjectivity involved in field sobriety testing. After all, whether flickering eyes signal drunkenness is a call made by a police officer, as is the assessment whether an ability to walk a completely straight line is an indication of an inebriated person.

There are many non-drinking-related reasons why an individual might -- again, solely in a police officer's opinion -- fall short on a sobriety test. Those broadly include things like fear and intimidation, the effects of a prescribed medication legally taken, an impairing physical condition (for example, arthritis or back/leg pain), a recent surgery and additional factors.

A Colorado resident having questions or concerns regarding field sobriety tests or any other aspect of an alcohol-related stop can obtain accurate answers and proven legal guidance from an experienced DUI/DWI attorney.

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