Challenging Field Sobriety Tests

Defense from Our Denver DUI Lawyer

The outcome of many DUI cases is influence by one important factor prior to arrest: whether the police officer had probable cause to stop you and to arrest you. Police officers use a set of tests to determine whether there is reasonable cause to suspect someone to be intoxicated. Since alcohol can affect one's motor skills, judgment and comprehension, the NHTSA has standardized several Field Sobriety Tests to help officers get a better understanding of the driver's disposition.

These tests are designed to measure a driver's:

  • Physical coordination
  • Response time
  • Alertness
  • Ability to follow directions

NHTSA Standardized Field Sobriety Tests & DUI

NHTSA is an acronym for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is the federal agency that formulated these tests over 20 years ago, and which are now the standard tests used by police across the United States. While there are many different types of field sobriety tests, police officers in Metro Denver typically require drivers to perform a standardized battery of three tests:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The driver is told to follow a stimulus with his or her vision. The officer will take a pen or finger and move it across the driver's field of vision, watching to see how well he or she is able to follow the object. Involuntary jerks or twitches in the driver's eyes could indicate that the driver's vision is impaired. While this test is one of the more credible field sobriety tests, it is not immune to inaccuracies. Many people have a medical condition called nystagmus, which can affect an individual's ability to hold vision on something close to their eyes--but it does not mean that they are impaired. People with nystagmus can experience eye twitching or jerking even if they don't drink.

Nine-Step Walk and Turn Test: In this test, the driver is asked to walk on a straight line, usually an imaginary line, and keep himself or herself from falling. The police officer will usually instruct the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps in one direction and then turn around and repeat the same in the other direction. This test is not only to measure the driver's balance but also their ability to listen and follow directions.

One Leg Stand Test: Another multi-faceted test is the One Leg Stand. In this test, the driver is asked to lift a foot about six inches off of the ground and count to twenty or thirty out loud. The police officer will be looking to see whether the driver can comprehend basic counting requests while maintaining a still balance on one leg. However, it’s easy to see why this test is very inaccurate and not a good method for determining sobriety, as even a sober person could have trouble maintaining balance for a full 30 seconds if they lack coordination or are over-weight.

Expert Witness & Defense

Since becoming a lawyer, Chris Cessna has been recognized and qualified by the Colorado Courts as an expert in the administration and interpretation in NHTSA Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFSTs). In fact many Colorado attorneys that take DUI cases actually hire Mr. Cessna as an expert witness to defend their client. If the officer failed to administer the test properly, the results of the tests may be considered unreliable and invalid by the court.

Attorney Cessna also holds the highest NHTSA certification available - that being a trained NHTSA Instructor. In fact, Chris Cessna has been asked to instruct police officers in other parts of the country and other lawyers in Colorado on a regular basis. Chris Cessna knows that this roadside test evidence that the government will try to use against you is often obtained improperly and interpreted incorrectly, and Mr. Cessna has the experience and expertise to often invalidate this evidence in court. As a former DUI police officer, Mr. Cessna has been trained and certified to administer the NHTSA field sobriety tests. In addition, he is also a trained and certified NHTSA SFST instructor, and has taught other police officers and attorneys about standardized field sobriety testing.