A lot depends on distinct circumstances when someone is charged with drunk driving. These include whether anyone was hurt or if you have prior DUI convictions on your record. But perhaps the most significant contributing factor regarding DUI charges in Pennsylvania is your level of impairment, illustrated by your BAC and typically determined by a DUI test.

However, the accuracy and reliability of such tests are far from ironclad. While no DUI test is perfect, including chemical blood, breath, and urine analysis, nowhere are the faults more apparent than with Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFTS), ARIDE, and DRE Protocols.

The Problem with DUI Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes three official “validated” field sobriety tests that determine whether a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. These tests refer to the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk & Turn, and One Leg Stand tests. These are considered standardized because they have strict guidelines for administering each test and interpreting results. Further, NHTSA has funded three “validation studies” to support their legitimacy.

These tests are not infallible. Defense attorneys with focused training in DUI field sobriety testing, such as Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFTS) certification and advanced DUI Trial Skills training, can effectively challenge their validity. A trained defense attorney can leverage discrepancies to secure a reduction in charges and even dismissals for clients. Additionally, when DUI attorneys can clearly illustrate the shortcomings of these tests in open court, during police office cross-examination, for example, it will inevitably shed light on the frequency of these DUI tests being improperly performed and countless unwarranted DUI charges being filed.

Using SFST Certification to Defend DUI Clients

As a criminal defense attorney, I’ve had considerable experience in DUI cases and a long record of favorable outcomes for people charged with drunk or drugged driving. In many cases, this involved reducing the negative impact, protecting their records, and preserving their ability to drive. But after some time, it became clear that many of my clients were in the unfortunate position of facing DUI charges, not because of their actions, but instead due to police mistakes and inaccurate testing. Unfortunately, it is difficult to refute how a DUI test was administered and performed without having gone through the same training as the police officer who administered the test.

To that end, I have completed the identical SFST training course given to law enforcement officers throughout the county and have obtained the same level of SFST certification as those cops who administer the tests and are using them to make DUI arrests on the street.

As a defense attorney trained in the same DUI testing procedures, I can scrutinize the test’s circumstances to identify flaws. By understanding the test’s proper administration, I can highlight deviations that may have affected the results. By exposing these vulnerabilities, defense attorneys trained to administer SFSTs can strengthen their clients’ cases and increase the likelihood of getting unjustified DUI charges dismissed and proving innocence at trial.

Cross-Examination May Be the Best Opportunity

It is always helpful when a defense attorney points to procedural errors that may have influenced your arrest and charges. In an ideal scenario, your attorney can demonstrate mistakes to the prosecutor before going to court and negotiate an appropriate resolution. Regrettably, when dealing with a problem as ingrained as law enforcement using flawed tests to make DUI arrests, sometimes it takes impugning the officer’s understanding to make an impact.

Cross-examination presents a crucial opportunity for a defense attorney to challenge the arresting officer’s credibility and expose weaknesses in their case, including the incorrect administration of DUI testing. Regarding DUI field sobriety tests, my STFS training allows me to ask targeted questions that can potentially undermine the officer’s account.

You Can Challenge the Test Standardization

By questioning the officer on the standardized procedures, a trained attorney can highlight any deviations or inconsistencies that may have influenced the test’s accuracy. For example, the NHTSA guidelines for the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test state that the stimulus should be approximately 12-15 inches from the suspect’s face. This distance is necessary to observe eye movements accurately. Additionally, the stimulus must be held slightly above the eyes and can only be moved at certain times as the test is conducted.

If the officer fails to maintain the correct distance or otherwise error when administering the test, it may alter the suspect’s eye movements, leading to a false indication of impairment. During cross-examination, a defense attorney with knowledge of these protocols can highlight deviations, cast doubt on the accuracy of the HGN test results, and weaken the prosecution’s case.

Argue the Presence of Environmental Factors

Aside from possible mistakes in how your DUI test was performed, a lawyer with SFTS credentials can scrutinize the conditions in which you were tested to pinpoint any opportunities. Field sobriety tests sound reliable in theory, but assessing someone’s level of intoxication on the side of the road, at all hours, and in the elements is harder than expected.

Testing using the Walk and Turn method should ideally be conducted on a flat and level surface, free from any obstructions or hazards. This ensures the suspect has a stable and consistent area to walk.

However, police are known to conduct this test on uneven pavements, gravel, or in inclement weather. Any of these can significantly impact your ability to perform the test. During cross-examination, your lawyer can question the officer about the conditions present during the test. They may ask about uneven surfaces, poor lighting, loud noises, or other adverse conditions affecting your balance, coordination, and overall performance.

Highlight The Officer’s Lack of Training

Another deficiency in field DUI testing that cross-examination can expose is the overall lax police training policies regarding Field Sobriety Tests. An attorney certified to administer the test has the luxury of that knowledge and the training manuals, which can be used during cross-examination to test the police officer’s memory and recall of the standardization methods required to administer the test properly.

If the officer administering the DUI test is lazy, lacks proper training, or fails to provide clear and accurate instructions, it can lead to misunderstandings or confusion. For instance, if an officer requests that you perform the One Leg Stand test but mistakenly gives you confusing or incorrect instructions, this can result in you not fully comprehending the expectations or requirements of the test, leading to potentially inaccurate results.

During cross-examination, your attorney can inquire about the officer’s training and the instructions provided. By revealing gaps in the officer’s training or insufficient instructions, you can cast doubt on the test results and underscore how defective procedures can lead to unwarranted DUI charges.

Some Medical Conditions Can Influence DUI Results

One of the biggest problems with Field Sobriety Tests is that they do not adequately accommodate certain medical conditions and illnesses. Some conditions, such as inner ear disorders, neurological disorders, or even certain medications, can cause symptoms that mimic impairment, like balance issues, diminished coordination, or slurred speech.

For instance, if you have a condition like vertigo or Parkinson’s disease, your balance and coordination may be compromised even when sober. However, suppose an officer fails to recognize these medical conditions or mistakenly attributes the symptoms to alcohol or drug impairment during a field sobriety test. In that case, it can result in an undeserved DUI.

To make matters worse than a sick person being unfairly arrested for DUI, disputing that a medical condition was confused with intoxication may require witness testimony and cross-examination. By questioning the officer about their interaction with you, they can raise questions about what you told them about your medical condition and whether they considered the possibility of a medical condition.

Cops Know DUI Tests Are Flawed

As a criminal defense attorney with the same training in DUI field sobriety testing as Pennsylvania Law Enforcement, I can leverage my knowledge and insight to challenge the reliability and accuracy of these tests. By exposing administration flaws at any point in the process, including cross-examination, we can potentially compel police, prosecutors, and lawmakers to admit that too much weight is given to an improperly administered method of determining impairment.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to cross-examine a Pennsylvania State Trooper in a DUI trial, where we explored many of the issues discussed in this article. By asking targeted questions and executing some of the strategies discussed, the Trooper admitted to improperly administering the field sobriety tests in my client’s case. And while my client secured the fair result they deserved, I anticipate many more courts will come to the same conclusion about inaccurate tests being the basis for life-altering charges like DUI.

Speak to A DUI Lawyer Today

If you face a DUI in Pennsylvania or New Jersey and are seeking legal representation from an attorney well-versed and with advanced training in the complexities of field sobriety testing, I’d be happy to speak with you. Call Fienman Defense today at (215) 839-9529 or contact us online or submit a request online for a free and confidential case evaluation.

Attorney Michael H. Fienman represents clients in criminal and traffic matters throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Mr. Fienman has completed the same DWI detection training as most law enforcement officers, and he holds a certificate in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Mr. Fienman has also completed an advanced DUI Trial Skills course covering ARIDE and DRE Protocols. As an experienced trial attorney, he is a zealous advocate known for relentlessly defending clients in state court, federal court, and before administrative agencies.

Attorney Fienman is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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