Factors Affecting Birmingham DUI Field Sobriety Tests

Tags: Criminal Defense, DUI

Former Miami Dolphins/Cleveland Brown Quarterback Bernie Kosar was recently arrested for DUI, following an early morning traffic stop and a failed field sobriety test.


As our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys understand, part of the test involved a standard request to walk in a straight line, which Kosar was unable to successfully complete. Kosar, however, maintains that the reason had nothing to do with intoxication. Rather, he says, it had to do with the fact that he had undergone multiple surgeries on his knees and ankles, due to the fact that the Browns’ offensive line “couldn’t block.”

On the surface, it may seem Kosar was offering up a lame excuse. But actually being lame is one of many reasons why an individual might conceivably not perform well on a field sobriety test, even if he or she were perfectly sober.

The reality is that field sobriety tests are incredibly subjective. While the concepts upon which the tests were formulated are designed to apply to the majority of the population, the truth of the matter is that these tests aren’t full-proof. There are going to be exceptions. Those might include underlying medical conditions, like what Kosar is referencing, or possibly even external and/or environmental factors, such as weather, roadside conditions or what type of shoes you’re wearing.

These elements cannot be discounted. Any legitimate scientific test will control for all variables. Field sobriety tests don’t, which is why DUI lawyers can often successfully challenge them in court.

Generally, if you have been drinking or believe you are under the influence, we advise you not to undergo field sobriety testing in the first place. The reason is that, No.1, you face no legal penalty in Alabama by forgoing the test. (This is unlike refusal to submit to a breathalyzer, for which you will face an automatic license suspension, per implied consent laws.)

The second reason is that for the most part, all you are doing is supplying prosecutors with more ammunition to be used against you in court. The more you are observed, the more you say, the deeper the whole you might dig for yourself.

Politely declining to undergo field sobriety tests in the first place is usually the best way to go – that is, if you believe you may be impaired.

However, if you do consent to the test, bear in mind that there are a number of medical conditions that may negatively impact the results. For example, those suffering from hypoglycemia due to diabetes may appear to be intoxicated, with slurred speech, confusion and even combativeness. They might even register a certain percentage of blood-alcohol on a breathalyzer test, due to the level of acetone your body produces when enduring such an episode. Other possible medical conditions that could negatively affect a field sobriety test include a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, a seizure, lung or asthma problems, inner ear issues, dentures, reflux disease or just general fatigue and lack of sleep. Your age and weight too might play a role.

One also can’t discount how nervousness may impact a test (and officers tend to use this to their advantage). Additionally, some people just have a natural lack of coordination. Those with certain learning disabilities also may have trouble answering certain kinds of questions or following specific instructions.

With regard to environmental factors, our attorneys won’t overlook the affect of the following:
–Extreme heat or cold temperatures;
–Heavy traffic or adverse road conditions;
–Dust in your eyes;
–Severe wind;
–Inclement weather, such as heavy rain.


Additional Resources:
Why couldn’t Bernie Kosar walk straight in DUI stop? He blames the Browns, Oct. 2, 2013, By Robert Nolin, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
DUI Charges Dropped Against Star Basketball Player, Sept. 30, 2013, Birmingham DUI Defense Lawyer Blog

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