Field Sobriety Tests
The importance of field sobriety tests cannot be overstated when it comes to looking for a way to “beat” a DUI case. To be honest, finding problems with the field sobriety tests substantial enough to get a case dismissed is a bit of a long-shot. Police officers are trained to administer these tests, so what we’re really looking for is a mistake on their part.
One of the best ways to find such a mistake is to review any police video of the administration of these tests. Even if there are no real mistakes in the administration of field sobriety tests, any discrepancy between what the police officer writes in his or her report, and what shows up on that video can have some value in challenging the case.
Let’s look at an example:
Driver Don is pulled over by the police for speeding, or weaving, or whatever. According the police report (and this is in every police report I’ve ever read), as the officer made contact with Driver Don, he or she noticed that there was “a strong odor of intoxicants” coming from the vehicle, that Don’s eyes appeared to be red, glassy, and/or bloodshot, and that his speech seemed slow and slurred.
[By the way, anyone reading this who was pulled over can bank on a nearly identical version of the above paragraph being in their police report].
Don is asked out of the car to perform some field sobriety tests. One such test is that Don is to count backwards, from 72 to 59. According to the report, Don continued past 59 and stopped at 52.
When asked to recite the alphabet without singing it, he is alleged to have said something like “h, j, k, m, l, n, o, p….”
Now, standing alone (meaning if there is no video), the officers report of this performance will be hard to challenge. As it turns out, Don blew a .16 at the Police Station, so his recollection of his own performance won’t count for much. Thus, the officer’s version of what happened is quite likely to stand, there being no reliable evidence to the contrary.
If, however, there was in-car video of the stop and field sobriety tests, they had darn well better show the same performance on those tests as recalled in the officer’s report.
For all of that, my experience with police video has been lukewarm, at best. Often, the video shows the client at what can only be described as not their best. I’ve sat with plenty of clients who, a few minutes into things, have said “shut that off. I’ve seen enough.”
Other times, I’ve seen videos where the camera angle wasn’t very good, or the microphone muffled, or not on, and which neither helps nor hurts the officer’s version of events.
Sometimes, however, the video contradicts the officer’s version of what happened. When that occurs, it may be a bit premature to start popping the champagne corks, but it is reason to be optimistic.
The bottom line is, you’ll never know until you look. Videos usually run about $50 or so, and that’s a small investment for what can be a huge payoff.