Police in New York may be out in force this holiday season on the lookout for intoxicated drivers, but their means of identifying them may not always be accurate. After all, there are three official types of field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn test. But, there is no personal baseline for how an individual driver will be able to complete such tasks. Extenuating factors could exist that could affect how an individual is able to perform a field sobriety test.
For example, take those with physical impairments. People older than 65-years-old, who have a physical disability (whether apparent or not) or who are over 50-pounds overweight may not be able to perform the one-leg stand or the walk-and-turn test, even if they are sober. For example, while an officer may not be able to see an inner ear condition, should one exist, the person could find balancing for the purposes of a field sobriety test to be difficult, which could lead to a faulty result and eventually an unlawful arrest.
Certain mental conditions could also affect the horizontal nystagmus test, which assesses the involuntary jerking of a person's eyes as they look back-and-forth. A neurological condition could make it look, via the horizontal nystagmus test, like a person has consumed alcohol when, in fact, they have not. Moreover, if a person is feeling anxious, it could be difficult to face a police officer asking him or her to perform a series of unfamiliar tasks.
In the end, it is important to remember that a field sobriety test should not be considered the be-all, end-all answer to whether a person was driving while intoxicated. There are many reasons why such tests could be faulty. If a person was arrested for drunk driving, but believes he or she is innocent, it can help to have an attorney assess the situation and represent his or her client's interests.
Source: FieldSobrietyTests.org, "Health or Mental Problems and Field Sobriety Tests," accessed on Nov. 20, 2016