Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland DUI Cases

In Maryland if you are pulled over and suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol you will likely be administered some type of field sobriety test. Below, a Maryland DUI lawyer discusses these tests, how they must be administered, and how they can be presented in court. For more information on your case, call and schedule a consultation today.

Field Sobriety Tests At DUI Stops

Field sobriety tests are tests that the police officers are taught to conduct when they are receiving their training at the police academy that were specifically created to be able to gauge if alcohol has impacted a person’s coordination. These tests are what’s called divided attention tests which means that the driver is being asked to do two different things at once. In this case those two things are being able to listen and take in the instructions of the test during the instruction phase and then actually perform the physical part of the test.

These are tests that require the driver to pay attention and comprehend the instructions and then perform movements related to the individual’s balance, the ability to walk, the ability to stand on one leg, the ability to make a turn in such a way as was instructed by the officer.

While this is taking place, the officer is looking to see if the driver is exhibiting poor coordination or if the driver is having difficulty with his balance. In many cases people who have been given a test believe they did a superb job, however these same people often aren’t aware of what the officer was actually looking for as they administered the test.

Is There a Specific Way Field Sobriety Tests Must Be Administered?

Yes, if the officer administers these tests in a certain way, then the state can ask the judge to make certain inferences from the driver’s performance on the test. However, in order for the state to be able to make that argument, the test would have to be administered in a certain way and the instructions would have to be given in exactly the way that the tests were created.

With that said, if the driver couldn’t maintain his balance and having to move his feet in order to not fall down, that’s all a judge is really going to need to hear.  It doesn’t require much more than that for a judge to find that the defendant’s coordination was impaired.  The real minutiae of how these tests are administered is much more relevant for the case where it’s a borderline case and the defendant could very easily be found not guilty. That is when the administration of those tests can be given a great deal of weight.

How Field Sobriety Tests Are Used in Maryland

In Maryland, these tests are used in the standardized form that they were meant to be used in. However, with that said, there are police officers who make a lot of DUI stops and they know exactly how to administer the field sobriety tests and then there is also a whole other segment of law enforcement that does not typically do DUI stops and may struggle to administer standardized field sobriety tests.  However, a lot of these officers do still understand that they can ask the driver to do things like recite a portion of the alphabet or to count backwards and if a driver cannot perform those two tests satisfactorily, then a court is going to pay attention to that.

Additionally, if the driver has difficulty getting out of his own car or cannot stand and talk to the police officer without swaying and having to constantly move his feet to maintain his balance, then that evidence is going to be a very strong evidence regardless of what the results of the standardized field sobriety tests might be.

Can You Refuse A Field Sobriety Test in Maryland?

Yes, absolutely.  A driver does not have to agree to perform field sobriety test and most attorneys would advise anybody who chooses to do that to do that in a very respectful way, but absolutely, the driver can say that they are refusing to perform the field sobriety test.

How Can a Lawyer Challenge Field Sobriety Tests in Court?

An experienced and well-trained DUI attorney is going to have taken training on these tests and is going to know the manual on which the officer was taught and be able to cross examine the officer about the field sobriety tests. The testimony about field sobriety tests becomes very important in the DUI case where there is not a breath test result.  The state cannot depend on being able to introduce a particular breath test result and the evidence is based fully on the officer’s observation of the driver.  In those types of cases, a really strong cross examination of the police officer can decimate the weight that the court will give to the standardized field sobriety test.