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About Field Sobriety and Breath Tests

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are used by police officers to determine whether a person was driving under the influence. There are certain issues that is important for drivers to know about field sobriety tests. If you have been charged with a DUI and participated in a field sobriety test, you should contact a DC DUI lawyer.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has designated certain tests as standardized field sobriety tests. These are tests that have gone through various studies. Field sobriety tests are supposed to determine whether someone is impaired by alcohol or another substance, as opposed to being tired, etc.

After a period of study, NHTSA has determined that tests such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test are accurate predictors of whether a person is impaired.

There are other tests that some officers use, but they are very rare in DC because they are not approved or deemed as standardized. These tests include reciting the alphabet backwards, counting backwards, or finger-to-nose.

Officers used to do a test where an individual would have to touch their fingers to their thumbs back and forth, over and over. These tests have not been studied and approved to be reliable indicators of impairment, so they are not typically used.

This is not to say they cannot be mentioned and discussed by the police officer at trial. However, an experienced defense attorney would be able to point out to the judge or jury that these tests are not approved. They are not standardized and have not been deemed to be reliable indicators of impairment.

Legal Repercussions for Not Performing the Field Sobriety Tests

The only repercussion is that the prosecutor could argue to the court that the defendant is trying to hide something by failing to perform the tests. However, there is no legal problem with refusing to perform a test. A person cannot be considered guilty because they did not do the tests.

DUI lawyers always recommend that people do not perform the tests because that enables their attorney to explore the multiple reasons why they may not have wanted to perform the tests. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to be tired, to have muscle aches, to not have good balance, and to want to talk to an attorney before doing anything that the police officer asks. Those are perfectly acceptable reasons to not do a field sobriety test. For that reason, people absolutely should not do them.

Repercussions for Not Providing a Chemical Sample

If someone does not provide a chemical sample when asked by an officer during the course of an investigation, they will lose their privilege to drive in DC if they have a driver’s license that is in another jurisdiction, or they will lose their actual driver’s license if they have a DC license, for an entire year.

Request to Provide a Blood Sample Instead of a Breath Sample

A person can request to provide a blood sample, but the officers will very rarely take them up on that request. They will request the type of sample they want the person to give and if the person requests a different type of test, almost invariably they will say no and mark it as a refusal.

Inability to Provide a Breath Sample

A DUI lawyer will want to know whether the person has a medical condition that prevented them from being able to provide a sufficient urine or breath sample. If they do not have a medical condition, an attorney will discuss how they were feeling and the circumstances because there are many different reasons why someone might not be able to provide a sufficient sample. This includes being in a stressful environment, usually late at night, in a small room, in custody, handcuffed, and with an officer there.

These are things that can affect a person’s ability to perform as directed. Usually, a police officer will deem a person’s inability to give a sufficient sample as a refusal. They will assume that the person is trying to avoid giving a sufficient sample, but this is not true in many cases.

Challenging Breath Tests

People have the right to challenge the validity of any chemical test results. With regard to the breathalyzer, the government must provide the defense with all of the information regarding the calibration and certification of the machine and the certification of training of the officer who was using the machine. With regard to the urinalysis, they have to provide all of the actual test analysis information.

In every DUI case, a criminal defense lawyer should demand that the government provide all of the chemical information so that they can analyze it and ensure the machine was properly calibrated and certified. This will allow for confirmation that it was working correctly. If there are any anomalies, your defense lawyer should attack those to try to convince the court to not allow the government to introduce that evidence.

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