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Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST), often referred to as “roadside tests,” or “roadside maneuvers,” are usually a part of the evidence in every DUI or DWAI case. The word “standardized” is meant to suggest that this battery of tests is done the same way, all the time, in every case – and therefore the results produce a reliable indication of impairment, or lack of impairment. The trouble is, these tests must be performed exactly as intended, otherwise the results are not reliable. As with any complicated testing procedure, the officer that administers these tests can, and most often does, make mistakes when giving the tests to a suspected DUI driver. An example of these tests is when the officer asks you to stand on one leg for thirty seconds. You are not legally required to do these sobriety tests, and should not agree to do them.

In the Denver area, drivers are asked to perform three different maneuvers:

These three tests have been endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) as being the most accurate in indicating a driver’s level of impairment. For that reason, the Colorado State Patrol and most Denver metro police departments use these three tests, which are referred to collectively as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.

The NHTSA has developed guidelines for how police officers are supposed to administer these tests to you. The guidelines are used to ensure both that you are given clear, accurate instructions by the officer on how you are to perform the tests, and that you are scored objectively and fairly. Denver police often ignore these guidelines, and because many DUI cases are not vigorously defended, the police officer’s mistakes go unnoticed, and the accused ends up with a DUI conviction that may have been avoided. For example, the officer is supposed to demonstrate each maneuver for you, before you are asked to begin. Frequently, the officer will only give you verbal instructions – and will then claim that your “failure to understand the instructions” is evidence that you were under the influence.

These tests are intended to be scored objectively, using a point-assessment scoring method. Many police officers will interpret your performance using subjective opinions, rather than sticking to the objective scoring recommended by NHTSA. Because Denver police do not always follow the federal guidelines for administering the tests, a skilled DUI attorney will show a jury why the results of the tests are not reliable evidence of impairment.

Some local police departments use sobriety tests that are not part of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, usually because the standardized tests require special training that the officers have not been given. In such a case, it is important for your lawyer to highlight the fact that your arresting officer was using tests that are not considered to be the most reliable by the federal government.