This provocative headline is based on the following article published in the February 2009 DWI Journal: Law & Science.
Standardized Field Sobriety Testing: Learning from Our Mistakes
The purpose of this paper is to examine whether there was a significant difference between the NHTSA/IACP standardized administrative procedures learned by officers in the basic SFST practitioner course and the manner in which these same officers administer the SFST procedures in the field. Furthermore, if there is a significant difference from the standardized NHTSA/IACP approved procedures, what elements had the most significant deviations?
This examination was based on more than three hundred and fifty evidentiary videotapes which were analyzed over a four year period. The benefit of this analysis is to identify the overall rate of compliance as well as identify contributing factors to any non-compliance. By identifying proper and improperly administered elements of the SFST’s, it is believed that a course of correction can be undertaken in order to eliminate officer error while administering SFST’s in enforcement settings.
If you’d like to read the entire text, you’ll have to order the Journal, but in summary, the paper found that the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus was incorrectly administered by trained police officers investigating drunk driving cases 93% of the time. The Walk and Turn was incorrectly administered 81% of the time and the One Leg Stand was incorrectly administered 50% of the time.
What is particularly interesting about this study is the fact that the field sobriety test considered to be the most reliable is the one least like to be properly administered while the least reliable test, the One Leg Stand, is the one most likely to be administered properly, albeit still only 50% of the time.
This means that the field sobriety tests being administered by police officers at the roadside are literally junk. Why? Because the training manual specifically states that if the tests are not properly administered, then the results are “compromised.” Here is the actual language:
Flexibility of the SFST Test Battery
THE STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS ARE NOT AT ALL FLEXIBLE. THEY MUST BE ADMINISTERED EACH TIME, EXACTLY AS OUTLINED IN THIS COURSE (P. 8, SFST Administrators Guide, HS 178 R1/02).
Validation/ Compliance to Standards
“IT IS NECESSARY TO EMPHASIZE THIS VALIDATION APPLIES ONLY WHEN: THE TESTS ARE ADMINISTERED IN THE PRESCRIBED STANDARDIZED MANNER, THE STANDARDIZED CLUES ARE USED TO ASSESS THE SUSPECTS PERFORMANCE, THE STANDARDIZED CRITERIA ARE EMPLOYEED TO INTERPRET THAT PERFORMANCE. IF ANY ONE OF THE STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TEST ELEMENTS IS CHANGED THE VALIDITY IS COMPROMISED” (P.VIII-19, SFST student manual, HS 178 R1/02).
The article was written by Dr. Lance Platt. Since August of 2002 Lance A. Platt has reviewed and evaluated over 1,000 DWI/DUI alcohol and other drug cases and testified as an expert witness nationwide in over 100 cases.
Mr. Platt has been responsible for training curriculum design, development and implementation; instructing impaired driving training seminars; researching impaired driving issues; conducting human performance evaluations; providing analysis and interpreting the NHTSA/IACP SFST and DRE administrative requirements; videotape and document analysis; composing technical reports, and providing expert witness testimony.
Mr. Platt is a certified NHTSA SFST practitioner, instructor and train the trainer and a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) Instructor. Mr. Platt has been qualified and provided legal professional training, expert testimony and consulting in the field of DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety nationwide.