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San Francisco, CA Field Sobriety Tests Lawyer

San Anselmo Field Sobriety Tests Lawyer

Marin County and Bay Area DUI Defense Lawyer Challenging the Validity of Police Stops and FSTs

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are a standard part of a California DUI investigation. FSTs are physical tests administered by police officers to aid them in determining whether or not a motorist may be at (or above) the per se blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of .08 percent. The three standardized tests that are recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (i.e., following an object with your eyes)
  • Walk and Turn (i.e., nine heel-to-toe steps forward and back)
  • One-Leg Stand (stand on one leg to the count of 30)

In addition to the standardized tests, California police officers are known to use several non-standardized tests, including but not limited to:

  • Finger-to-Nose
  • Romberg Balance (i.e., balance and internal clock estimation) Test
  • Finger Count
  • Hand Pat (i.e., palm to back of hand with 1-2, 1-2 counting)
  • Alphabet or Number Backward Recitation

Field sobriety tests are often not fairly administered, and they have been shown to be highly flawed. At Burglin Law Offices, P.C., we understand the problems with FSTs, and how to successfully challenge their validity. Attorney Paul Burglin co-authors California Drunk Driving Law, a two-volume treatise commonly referred to by other lawyers in the state who are defending DUI clients. Paul knows the ins and outs of California DUI law, and his successful 30+ year track record is a major reason DMV hearing officers, prosecutors, and judges frequently call on him when one of their own friends or family members faces a DUI charge.

Should I Submit to a Field Sobriety Test?

The short answer is "no." Though FSTs are widely used by police officers, most people do not realize that these tests are voluntary. If you are pulled over for DUI, you are not required to submit to FSTs, and in almost all cases, it is not in your best interests to do so. Officers may try to persuade you to take the test by claiming that if you pass, you will not be arrested, or that if you refuse, you will be taken to jail. They may also claim that refusal could be seen as an admission of guilt. The truth is that if you have been pulled over and the officer knows you have been drinking, you are likely to be arrested anyway, regardless of whether or not you submit to a field sobriety test. If you refuse the test, there will be less evidence to use against you in court.

The Problems with Field Sobriety Tests

Although FSTs were never intended or designed to determine whether a driver is impaired, the results are often misleadingly used by prosecutors to argue impairment to juries. There were three core studies on standardized field sobriety testing (SFST) done in conjunction with Marcelline Burns, Ph.D., one of the founders of the Southern California Research Institute:

  • Colorado SFST Validation Study (1995)
  • Florida SFST Validation Study (1997)
  • San Diego SFST Validation Study (1998)

These experiments were funded by government grants from NHTSA. The studies came up with estimates as to what the percentage would be of individuals over the per se limit if they failed one or more of the standardized tests.

Among the problems with letting prosecutors place too much reliance upon these tests, however, is that:

  • The test subjects in these various experiments were not suffering the anxiety typically associated with one being investigated on the side of the road and subject to possible arrest;
  • Not everyone is a healthy young college student or cadet with normal weight and good coordination skills; and
  • Police officers often stray from administering the tests with the strict protocols utilized in these studies.

For more information on this topic, please consult California Drunk Driving Law, co-authored by Attorney Burglin.

Speak with an Aggressive San Francisco Bay Area Field Sobriety Tests Lawyer

If you submitted to a field sobriety test that could be used against you, a skilled DUI defense attorney can effectively challenge the results. For example, if the officer did not follow proper procedures in administering the FST, a motion can be filed to have the results suppressed. Or, if procedures were properly followed, there are numerous ways the findings can be discredited. Attorney Paul Burglin is one of only five attorneys in the state who is Board-Certified by the National College of DUI defense, and he fully understands the limits of FSTs and how to debunk them.

For a free personalized consultation with attorney Burglin, contact our office today at 415-729-7300. We serve clients throughout the Bay Area, including Tiburon, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur, San Rafael, Novato, San Anselmo, Fairfax and throughout Marin County. We also take cases for locals and tourists in the wine country of Sonoma and Napa, as well as those cited in San Francisco, Oakland, and Martinez.
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