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Can the accuracy of field sobriety tests be challenged?

Tests Kansas police officers administer during traffic stops can establish cause for an arrest on an alcohol-related charge. A series of field sobriety tests has been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for use by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The three tests known as the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, One-Leg Stand and Walk-and-Turn are familiar to most drivers. The HGN test involves passing a small object like a pen in front of a drunk-driving suspect's line of vision. Suspicious eye twitches and difficulty following the path of the object can be indicators of intoxication.

During the One-Leg Stand, an officer orders a driver to raise one foot off the ground and count simultaneously. This can be a simple task for sober individuals but difficult for impaired drivers, who typically have trouble keeping their balance.

Another balancing test is the Walk-and-Turn, in which drivers are ordered to walk in a straight line while putting one foot directly in front of another. The driver takes nine heel-to-toe steps, pivots on a single foot and walks back. The police officer monitors balance and the way the person responds to instructions.

The NHTSA claims, when officers identify enough intoxication indicators, the HGN test is 88 percent accurate. Accuracy assertions for the One-Leg Stand and the Walk-and-Turn tests are 83 percent and 79 percent accurate, respectively. In combination, the tests reportedly have a 91 percent accuracy rate.

A number of variables can have an effect on the outcome of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Weather conditions and a driver's health, age, weight and natural physical abilities may come into play. A police officer may not have the training or experience to conduct a SFST properly.

The answer to the title's question is "Yes." A field sobriety test can be challenged by a criminal defense attorney and so can other procedures used by police to arrest a defendant.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Standardized Field Sobriety Testing," accessed Aug. 07, 2015

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