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Does this field sobriety test set you up for failure?

You may have heard the sirens before you saw the flashing lights in your rearview mirror. For a second or two, you held out hope that the patrol vehicle was going to pass you by when you moved out of its way, but it wasn't meant to be. You came to a stop and waited for the officer to approach.

For some reason, once you and the officer began speaking, he or she suspected you of impairment and asked you to step out of the vehicle. You probably already suspected at this point that the officer would ask you to participate in field sobriety tests, and you now have a decision to make -- should you consent to participate or not? Legally, it is not a requirement, but like other New York residents, your first inclination may be to "prove" you aren't impaired.

You may want to resist the urge to participate

It isn't up to you to prove that you are not impaired. The officer must prove that the evidence suggests you are. Most police departments use a standard battery of tests that include three components. One of those tests, the one-leg stand test could set you up for failure, and if you fail, the officer will most likely place you under arrest. What is it about this particular test that increases your chances of ending up under arrest? Consider the following:

  • Like the other two tests, the one-leg stand test only requires the subjective opinion of the officer regarding whether you passed or failed. The officer already suspects you of impairment, so his or her opinion may already sway against you.
  • If you naturally, or due to some physical ailment, cannot keep your balance, you will most likely fail this test.
  • Research shows the test is not even 100% effective. At best, is it only 85% effective at determining impairment.
  • A federal government study found that police falsely arrested as many as 47% of subjects for impairment.
  • The conditions under which you take the test are usually not ideal. You would probably have difficulty performing well in the dark -- when officers often conduct the test, or on an uneven surface, with vehicles going past, with ambient noises and the stress associated with the situation.

The fact is that many people who fail this test have not even had one drink. If you do end up participating in this and the other tests, the odds are high you will fail. If that happens, you may still challenge the tests, especially if a blood alcohol concentration test indicates you were not legally drunk at the time.

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