Field Sobriety Tests in Massachusetts OUI / DUI Cases

Field Sobriety Tests are one of the most common and sometimes critical factors in defense of your Massachusetts Drunk Driving Charges. Most people stopped for suspicion of drunk driving, however, do not know that it is within their legal rights to refuse to submit to any Field Sobriety Tests.  They are also not aware that if they refuse to submit to any field sobriety tests and eventually take their case to trial, the refusal cannot be used against them at trial as Massachusetts law does NOT permit the prosecutor from introducing evidence of the person's refusal to the jury.

In many OUI / DUI cases, the strength of the prosecution's case against you may come down to the officer's alleged observations of your ability to operate the vehicle properly and safely, and whether any Field Sobriety Tests were performed.   Field sobriety tests, however, are extremely subjective, even when they are properly employed by the police.  Inevitably, however, the police rarely, if ever, properly explain or ask the person to administer these tests as they are supposed to.

Failures of the police to properly explain and administer field sobriety tests to the person stopped for suspicion of drunk driving must be highlighted at trial to demonstrate to the jury how unreliable these tests actually are.  Even when administered properly, these tests are not statistically or overwhelmingly reliable when determining an individual's sobriety.

For example, a person who is asked to recite the alphabet may just be too nervous to do it.  Or a person who is asked to walk a straight line on the side of the road can't because of fear of getting hit by car whizzing by them at high speeds.  Or a person who is asked to stand on one leg for more than a few seconds may fail because of a pre-existing knee injury.  All to often, there are way too many innocent explanations why a person may not necessarily be able to perform what may be perceived to be 'simple' but ridiculous tests.

Notwithstanding the above, Field Sobriety Tests and employed by police because they purportedly test a person's 'divided attention' by concentrating on two things at once.  The theory behind Field Sobriety Tests is that, in order to drive a car safely, the operator must be able to do many things simultaneously (e.g., steer, accelerate, break, react to changes in surroundings etc.).  Field Sobriety Tests, therefore, are designed to simulate the divided attention characteristics of driving by testing the person's:

  • information processing;
  • short-term memory;
  • judgment and decision-making;
  • balance;
  • steady, sure reactions;
  • clear vision;
  • small muscle control; and
  • coordination of limbs.
All Field Sobriety Tests that are employed by police in motor vehicle stops of suspected drunk drivers are designed to test at least two of the above 'capabilities'.  As mentioned above, however, these tests are not entirely accurate and the results in most circumstances can be attacked.  Persons who decided to submit to any field sobriety tests but are alleged to have failed them should therefore not be too discouraged about the potential merits of their case.

Therefore, even if you did submit to Field Sobriety Tests, this is not necessarily fatal to your drunk driving defense.  It will be up to a skilled and aggressive attorney to challenge the results of theses tests and other factors in the defense of your DUI / OUI case.

Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation to explain your legal rights and issues of defense.

To schedule a Free Consultation to discuss your Massachusetts OUI Charge, Click Here to Contact a Boston DUI Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.