For many people pulled over because an officer suspects them of intoxication at the wheel, a field sobriety test may feel like a form of public humiliation and cruel punishment. A driver has to exit their vehicle and proceed to perform physical tasks under the course observation of the police officer. Anyone driving by could witness the spectacle and realize that the officer believes you have had too much to drink.
There are many tests an officer might use, but three tests are the standards used in most drunk driving court cases. The walk-and-turn test, one-leg stand test and horizontal gaze nystagmus test can all provide evidence that someone may have had too much alcohol prior to driving.
However, as you may already know after your arrest, you can fail a field sobriety test while you are sober. Why do sober people fail sobriety tests?
Anxiety and other mental health issues
One of the most commonly-cited reasons for poor performance on a field sobriety test is a pressing sense of anxiety while dealing with the police.
Those with diagnosed mental health issues including generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder relating to some kind of law enforcement activity might potentially fail field sobriety tests while being sober because of how nervous they are while following the instructions of a police officer.
Physical health issues
There are certain medical conditions that might make it look like someone is under the influence when they actually are not. Some people have medical disorders that affect how they speak or their motor function. There are also people who have issues with their balance.
Despite having physical limitations, these individuals may be able to drive safely. However, they may struggle to perform the physical tests involved in a standardized field sobriety test.
There are other issues, such as a language barrier, that could contribute to someone’s poor performance on a field sobriety test. If you fail the field sobriety test and ended up arrested because an officer thought you were drunk, you might imagine that pleading guilty is your only option. This is a surprisingly common assumption among those facing impaired driving charges in particular.
However, presenting evidence about your medical condition or exploring your interpersonal history with law enforcement could raise questions about why you performed the way you did on that field sobriety test and could lead to a reasonable doubt that prevents your conviction.
Discovering a reasonable explanation for field sobriety tests that seems to indicate you broke the law could help you fight back against drunk driving charges.