Interviewer: In your experience, have there been any cases where miscommunication by the officer has played a role?
Kevin Roach: Miscommunication, absolutely. They're prone for miscommunication. The officers aren't always trained to administer the test correctly. For instance, for the walk-and-turn test, they may tell the person to start with the wrong foot, and when they start with the wrong foot, it's going to be very awkward when they go to turn. It's not going to be an accurate test. Yeah, they're definitely prone to error.
Interviewer: Do you think an intimidation factor ever comes into play?
Kevin Roach: Definitely. I think just about anyone would be intimidated. They have an officer barking orders at them and the danger of being arrested is never a calming thought.
Interviewer: Maybe they feel like they have to answer the right questions and do all tests correctly.
Kevin Roach: Most people don't refuse the field sobriety test. Most people don't think that they are highly intoxicated, because it doesn't take much to be intoxicated, so most people take the test and they think that once they take the test, they're just going to be let go. Unfortunately, there is an extremely small percentage of the time that an officer will say, "Okay. You passed the test. You can go home now." It just doesn't happen.
Interviewer: With the walk-and-turn test, I hear about invisible lines sometimes. What is that invisible line? How is someone supposed to know how to follow that?
Kevin Roach: Yes, there is an imaginary line that they’re using to watch your ever step.
Interviewer: If an officer feels someone is not walking it straight and they're walking it diagonally, can the officer count that against someone?
Kevin Roach: Yes, it always comes down to the officer's judgment. That's the problem with these tests. They're not scientific. A lot of times, there's no video evidence. Even if there was video evidence, it's an imaginary line. As you can imagine, how are you going to tell whether he is walking on that imaginary line or not? It's not there.
The bottom line is that these tests are designed for you to fail. Very rarely does anybody ever pass these tests. There are tests, basically, are used to build a case against you. I always tell people, if you are under the influence, your best bet is to refuse everything. Refuse the field sobriety test. When you get back to the station, you should also refuse the breath test. Why would you want to incriminate yourself by taking these tests and giving them breath evidence? Most people don't think about it ahead of time.
Non-Standard Field Sobriety Tests
Interviewer: There are a couple of other tests that I've heard of. I've heard of one where the police officer will throw some coins and have the person pick them up. Is that one still being administered?
Kevin Roach: I don't see that test administered here in St. Louis. You do see a counting test administered quite a bit. The officer will ask you to count backwards and stop at a certain number. They’ve also had individuals recite the alphabet backwards – maybe even start it at a certain letter and stop it at another letter. Those are confusing too. Most people who even sober cannot begin to recite the alphabet backwards, and then still remember to stop at a certain letter. It's a difficult test.
Interviewer: I've heard about the alphabet one that people did. They'll have someone do an alphabet without singing it. They're saying the alphabet without singing it. It goes against someone's programming.
Kevin Roach: Yes, exactly. I think they use that to their advantage, I think. You're under a lot of pressure when being pulled over. A lot of people probably couldn't say their alphabet.
Interviewer: I've actually seen the finger-to-the-nose test off the side of the road a couple of times here in Texas. I saw a young man with a police officer up in their face, and I see the person there with their arms out, and they are touching their nose. I don't know if that is still being done or if that was one that they go back to every now and then.
Kevin Roach: I've never seen this one here in Missouri. I think they used to do that test years ago, but I know they don’t anymore.
Interviewer: Again, it's like an old school practice. They really feel they have to do that sometimes.
Kevin Roach: Maybe some of the old school officers still do, but it's not one that I've seen.
Kevin J. roach is a St. Louis DWI defense attorney who has defended thousands of DWI and DUI cases in the St. Louis Metro area. Call us today at (636) 519-0085 or (866) 519-0085 for your Free Consultation!