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Field Sobriety Tests

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  • Manslaughter and Three Counts of Assault by DWI Sentence Significantly Reduced
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    A Lincoln County man was facing loss of his driving privileges for having a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. After a full hearing on the matter, the Court agreed that there was no probable cause to believe the man was driving while intoxicated based on the details Mr. Muhlenkamp presented. The Court reinstated the man’s driving privileges immediately.


Field Sobriety Tests in St. Louis

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Officer Administering Field Sobriety TestWhen the police suspect that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, they will generally conduct a series of tests in order to determine whether the driver is impaired and to gather evidence against them. This is known as Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST). At Muhlenkamp & Bernsen, Attorneys at Law, our St. Louis DWI attorneys have experience defending clients against evidence collected during these field tests.

Call (314) 347-3313 now or contact Muhlenkamp & Bernsen, Attorneys at Law online.

Undergoing a Field Test

Sobriety tests are usually performed at the scene of the traffic stop and involve the officer asking the suspect to perform certain tasks and observing them for signs of intoxication.

The tests most often used are:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – Nystagmus is an involuntary twitching/jerking of the eyes that occurs when a person is under the influence of alcohol. When administering this test, the officer asks the subject to track an object while he or she moves it from side to side. The officer observes the subject’s eyes, looking for signs of intoxication, such as lack of smooth pursuit and onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees.
  • The Walk and Turn – In the walk and turn, you are asked to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, on a line, and then turn around and return in the same manner. The officer administering the test will look for signs of intoxication, such as taking the wrong number of steps, using your arms to maintain balance, stepping off the line, or not walking heel to toe.
  • The One Leg Stand – The one leg stand requires you to stand on one leg while counting out loud, by thousands, until you are told to stop. The officer administering the test will look to see whether you sway, hop, use your arms for balance, or put your foot down, or show any other signs of intoxication.

SFST & Gathering Evidence for DWI Arrest

Generally speaking, police officers do not ask people to perform the Standarized Field Sobriety Testing without having already formed an opinion about whether they are intoxicated. As a result, field sobriety testing is often used more as a tool to gather evidence of intoxication than as a way to determine whether a driver is drunk. For this reason, in many cases, it may be advisable for drivers to refuse the field sobriety test and challenge the arrest (and DWI case) at a later date.

Field Sobriety Testing Reliability

In the 1990s, Dr. Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University conducted a study in order to determine how well police officers were able to determine whether a person was intoxicated based on the field sobriety testing alone. In the study, “Field Sobriety Tests: Are They Designed for Failure?” 14 police officers were shown video of 21 people taking common field sobriety tests. The officers were then asked, “Do you feel, as a law enforcement officer, that the following subjects, based on field sobriety tests performed on videotape, have had too much to drink to drive?”

Of the responses from the officers, 46 percent indicated that a person had had too much to drink based on what they saw. In reality, all the individuals in the video were completely sober and had been verified at a 0.0 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) before the tests were conducted.

This is clear evidence that police officers are often biased in these investigations. That is specifically why you need an experienced attorney to challenge this one-sided thinking.

Can You Pass the Field Sobriety Test?

Many people are under the mistaken impression that they can “pass” the field sobriety test. It is important to understand that the SFST is used more as an evidence-gathering tool than a way for officers to determine whether a person is drunk or not. In fact, if you have been asked to do the field sobriety test, there is a good chance that the police officer who pulled you over has already decided that you are intoxicated and is planning on arresting you regardless of how you perform on the test. For this reason, it is often advisable to refuse the test rather than give the police more evidence that can be used against you.

Call Our Firm Today

Our team includes a lawyer who is certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), giving us the same training as the law enforcement officers who request these field tests. We know what it takes to question their conclusions and obtain a favorable outcome.

Call (314) 347-3313 now to get started.

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  • Anthony  Muhlenkamp Photo
    Anthony Muhlenkamp
    Anthony Muhlenkamp (feel free to call him Tony) has been practicing law since 2003. He graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 2000 with a business degree, then headed west to Los Angeles, California where he graduated from Southwestern University School of Law. Although he thoroughly enjoyed his law school experience—especially criminal law, criminal procedure, and trial advocacy—he could not stand the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. There was something about spending four ...
  • Tory  Bernsen Photo
    Tory Bernsen
    Tory Dowd Bernsen is a partner at Muhlenkamp & Bernsen, Attorneys at Law. She focuses on criminal defense, DWI, and appellate advocacy. Tony Muhlenkamp and Tory first began working together at a large criminal defense firm in St. Louis in 2008. They represented clients for several years on numerous matters, ranging from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies. During that time, they developed a trusted relationship which enabled them to work well together and advocate effectively for their ...

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