Exploring the Impact of Field Sobriety Tests in DUI Cases

Posted: March 1, 2024 at 12:00 am

DUI cases in Olathe, KS and Overland Park, KS are always tricky, and the consequences of a conviction can affect you for the rest of your life. An experienced DUI attorney will do everything possible to minimize the impact of field sobriety tests in order to get you a better result. Let’s consider what these tests do and how they could affect your case.

From Your DUI Attorney in Olathe, KS and Overland Park, KS: Field Sobriety Tests and Their Impact

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

In Kansas, law enforcement officers use FSTs as a tool to assess whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST), developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), includes three specific tests: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk-and-Turn, and the One-Leg Stand. These tests are designed to evaluate a driver’s balance, coordination, and ability to perform tasks that require divided attention, which are typically impaired in intoxicated individuals.

Officers are trained to follow specific guidelines when conducting FSTs to ensure accuracy and reliability of the results, but even with training, the subjective nature of these tests can lead to inconsistent results. The truth is these are subjective tests, and that means they aren’t black-and-white, cut and dried. Instead, a lot of things can affect the final result, from environmental conditions to your physical condition that might have nothing to do with alcohol or drugs, and even the officer’s subjective interpretation of your behavior.

Legal Significance

FSTs are usually the first step in a DUI investigation after a traffic stop where impairment is suspected. While these tests are voluntary in Kansas, drivers often comply because they are unaware of their rights or the potential implications if they fail the test. The results of these tests can significantly influence an officer’s decision to arrest a driver for DUI and can also form a part of the evidence used in court.

In court, the prosecution may use FST results to establish probable cause for the arrest and to argue that the driver was impaired at the time of the stop. The defense, however, can challenge the validity and accuracy of these tests. It’s important to understand that while FSTs can be persuasive, they are not definitive proof of intoxication and can crumble under the right legal scrutiny.

Challenges in Field Sobriety Test Evidence

One of the main criticisms of FSTs is their subjective nature. The officer’s experience, the methods of administration, and even the driver’s understanding of the instructions can all affect the outcome. Moreover, factors such as any medical conditions you might have, your age and weight, the footwear you have on, your diet and any medications you take, the weather, and even the road conditions where you’re asked to perform the tests can sometimes cause you to fail them, regardless of alcohol consumption.

As DUI defense attorneys, it’s our job to analyze the circumstances surrounding the administration of FSTs. We want to assess whether the tests were conducted properly, whether external factors may have influenced the results, and whether the officer’s interpretations were reasonable. Challenging the FSTs can be a pivotal part of a DUI defense strategy, especially in cases where there is little to no other evidence of impairment. Our goal is to ensure that our clients’ rights are protected and that all evidence, including the results of FSTs, is scrutinized for its validity and reliability.

Expert Witnesses and Disputing FST Results

One way we may be able to challenge these tests is through bringing in some expert witnesses. These may be experts with particular experience in forensic toxicology or law enforcement training, for example, and they specialize in giving a critical analysis of the test.

They’ll be able to testify about the limitations of these tests so that the court can fully understand what these tests can and cannot prove. Furthermore, such witnesses have experience in elucidating the potential for error when tests are given and can give expert comment on how external factors may have affected the test and its reliability. Their testimony can be instrumental in casting doubt on the reliability of the FST evidence presented by the prosecution.

Analyzing the Officer’s Conduct and Technique

We may also be able to mount a defense by analyzing the conduct of the police officer who gave you the test. Were the tests administered in accordance with the NHTSA guidelines? Could the officer’s training and experience have impacted the interpretation of the results? By highlighting any deviations from standard procedures or potential misinterpretations, we can often effectively challenge the credibility of the FST evidence.

Considering Other Factors

There are other factors that can influence the results of these tests, and we will look into these in your defense. For example, certain medications can mimic the effects of being under the influence, and this may be an avenue of defense, particularly if you had just begun taking a medication and were not aware of potential side effects. If the ground under your feet was uneven, this may have caused you difficulty keeping your balance, even if you were completely sober.

Understanding Your Rights

Voluntary Nature of Field Sobriety Tests in Kansas

It’s important for drivers in Kansas to understand that participation in FSTs is voluntary. There can be some confusion here because you should submit to a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer or urine test. Under Kansas law, when drivers are given a driver’s license, they are giving their implied consent to these chemical tests.

However, the much more subjective field sobriety tests are entirely voluntary, and you do not give any implied consent to taking them just because you have a driver’s license. Officers are required to mention this at a traffic stop, but many of them are very skilled at mentioning it in a way that will satisfy the court but will leave you thinking you have to comply.

If you’re stopped for a suspected DUI, knowing your rights regarding FSTs is crucial. While refusing these tests can lead to further investigative steps by the officer, such as a request for a chemical test, it also eliminates one potential source of subjective evidence that could be used against you. Making informed decisions at this stage can significantly impact the course of a DUI case.

Field Sobriety Tests and Case Outcomes

The results of FSTs can influence not only the decision to arrest but also subsequent prosecutorial decisions. Prosecutors may rely on FST results to justify charges or during plea bargain negotiations. Understanding how to counteract this evidence can be key in reducing charges or negotiating more favorable terms. If the FST is the only real evidence the prosecution has, this often offers you more potential avenues for defense then if you failed a chemical test.

If you’re facing a DUI charge in Kansas, you want to have knowledgeable legal representation on your side, fighting in your corner. Contact us now at Henderson Legal Defense, LLC to work with an experienced Olathe, KS and Overland Park, KS DUI attorney.