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An Introduction to DUI Field Sobriety Tests

TN DUI Lawyer Steve Oberman Many people believe that every field sobriety test helps an officer
determine if someone is intoxicated. This is not true. Officers may
administer and reference many different types of field sobriety
tests, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) has validated and standardized only three to assist
them in making a DUI arrest decision. Collectively these tests are
often referred to as NHTSA’s Standardized Field Sobriety Tests,
referred to by law enforcement officers as SFSTs, or just FSTs. It is
important to know that these tests are intended to assist an officer
to determine if someone’s blood alcohol content is above .08%, the
per se legal limit, and not if a person is intoxicated.

The three, standardized field sobriety tests are the:
1. (HGN) Test (what our clients
refer to as “the eye test”),
2. One-Leg Stand (OLS) Test, and
3. Walk-and-Turn (WAT) Test.

No other tests are approved by NHTSA for this purpose. NHTSA
contends that these tests are highly accurate in determining if a
subject’s blood alcohol content is above .08%. Many lawyers, in
both the legal and scientific communities, question the reliability of
these standardized tests. In fact, in 2005 Mr. Oberman co-authored
an article with Michael P. Hlastala, Ph.D. and Nayak Polissar,
Ph.D. entitled Statistical Evaluation of Standardized Field Sobriety
Tests. This article was published in the renown and peer reviewed
Journal of Forensic Sciences in the May 2005 edition.

By definition, because the tests are standardized, every officer administering the SFSTs, in all jurisdictions, must do so in the same manner – every time. NHTSA has established guidelines and training manuals to instruct officers on how to properly administer and score the standardized field sobriety tests. If an officer deviates from the precise instructions or scoring techniques,
any opinions based upon the results of the tests would be of compromised validity.

When administering the standardized field sobriety tests, officers
are trained to look for certain “clues” or signs that the person has
not performed the test correctly. Each of the three standardized
tests calls for the officer to look for different clues. Exhibiting a
certain number of clues during a test is indicative of blood alcohol
content above .08%. The number of clues that indicate that a
person’s blood alcohol content is above .08% are different for each
test. No one test is dispositive of the estimate of blood alcohol
content, but, taken together, the tests are designed to help an
officer reach the intended conclusion.
Additional information about Standardized Field Sobriety Tests,
as well as information about the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration may be found by visiting NHTSA’s website. If you
have not yet hired a lawyer, questions regarding Tennessee DUI
arrests may be directed to Steve Oberman, Sara Compher-Rice or
Nate Evans by calling (865) 249-7200.

If you have hired a lawyer, you may have your lawyer contact us
for assistance. Questions regarding Field Sobriety Tests outside of
Tennessee should be directed to a lawyer listed on the home page
of this blog affiliated with the state of arrest.

About Steve Oberman

Steve Oberman
Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer), and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges, and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. Steve was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to teach at the University of Latvia School of Law in 2019. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

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