Can Physical Disabilities Hinder an Individual’s Performance in Field Sobriety Tests?

Interviewer: Where can the problems occur and where you can find defenses in this particular part of the investigation? What if someone is way overweight, if they’re over 65, or the conditions are uneven? Where can these defenses come from?

Attorney Nebeker: Absolutely. If they are more than 25 pounds overweight, or if they are older than 65, they’re supposed to move on and give other types of the nonstandard types of field sobriety tests. These tests could include the alphabet test or the finger count.

Referring back to the horizontal gaze Nystagmus test, if the officer doesn’t know those finer points of administering the test, shouldn’t the results be inadmissible as justification the driver is impaired?

The Field Sobriety Tests Must Be Administered and Interpreted Correctly by the Law Enforcement Officers

If I’m questioning how long are you supposed to take back and forth in front of the eye, and how long are you supposed to hold it out to their side. If they can’t answer those questions, then it says to me that they don’t understand the tests.

I had that happen to me just the other day. It was a brand new highway patrol officer. I asked him, “Well, you found these results on the test. How many points are there total? He says, “I don’t know.” He just didn’t know.

That was part of my argument to the driver’s license division. If he doesn’t even know how many points are on this test, how can he properly administer it, how can he probably interpret in and score my client as a fail?

Some People Should Not Be Asked to Undergo the Walk and Turn Test Due to Physical Limitations

He doesn’t even understand it. That’s the same thing with one of the other standard test is the walk and turn. They have to give this long set of instructions and the client has to follow those instructions.

Most of the time, we call this the walk-the-line test, and they’re supposed to walk a straight line, but quite often there isn’t a straight line, so they tell them to imagine a straight line.

Part of the problem with this test is, once again, validity. If the individual is overweight, if they have some kind of other physical problem, with their feet, ankles, legs, or back, these are legitimate physical problems besides the weight or the age.

I have my clients bring in a letter from their doctor or some of their medical records. We’ll show that it wasn’t reasonable to have them perform this test because they have had a knee operation, or they sprained their ankle a month ago. Most of problems occur in the physical tests.

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