Tennessee Supreme Court adopts heads we win, tails you lose for field sobriety tests

Most lawyers whose practice involves DUI defense law advise you to always refuse to perform field sobriety tests if you are stopped by the police on suspicion of drunk driving. This advice is based upon (1) field sobriety tests are bogus, they don’t detect drunk driving, and (2) the only purpose of field sobriety tests is to give the cops probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving when you flunk the tests.

The reason the tests are bogus is that many if not most people who have had nothing to drink will have trouble with the one-leg stand and the walk and turn test. This is especially true for people whose muscles stiffen up from sitting in a car and may need to shake out and limber up a little when first exiting a vehicle. The third of the “standardized” tests, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test where the cop has you follow his pen with your eyes as he moves it left to right (or right to left, I forget which) is silly. Supposedly, if your eyes twitch at the extreme right or left, you’re drunk. Problem is, your twitchy eyes may mean nothing more than that you have twitchy eyes.

For these reasons, and because roadside sobriety tests are voluntary in most if not all jurisdictions, DUI lawyers advise us to politely decline. I’ve been expecting MADD to push for making them mandatory lest some innocent people get away without a DUI conviction.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee has just adopted a ruling that save MADD the task of making roadside sobriety tests mandatory. Of course, it would be an easy task for MADD anyway since Congress pretty much asks how high when MADD says jump. Henceforth, in Tennessee for now, roadside sobriety tests have significance only if you flunk them. If you agree to perform them and pass with flying colors you can still be arrested. The cop can always find probable cause some other way, like claiming you committed a traffic infraction and he smelled alcohol on your breath as he approached your vehicle. Think you’ll get anywhere by arguing that one?

Please, nobody have any doubt that DUI laws in America have nothing to do with making the roads safer, or getting drunks off the road. They have everything, everywhere, always and only to do with getting as many DUI convictions as possible, by any means necessary.

Disclosure: I don’t drink and drive and I’ve never been arrested or charged with DUI.

  • Jack

    With all the lower extremity fractures I have sustained from years ago rodeo, I guarantee I could not pass the one leg stand or walk and turn no matter how hard or practiced i was.

    Of course with age comes wisdom (for most) and drinking and driving are part of my distant distant past. That was a time in the ranching communities if they pulled you over and you were under age the deputy made you pour out all your beer and “git home and I better not see you again tonite”.

    It was also a time when you did not back talk or give the deputy any crap, as they did not have pepper spray, but fists and a night stick, which they were not hesitant to use. Further, a second more serious beating would be awaiting at home when my Dad heard about my altercation with the local LEOs. Times have changed.

    • TeeJaw

      A cop friend told me that sometimes he’s encountered recidivist drunks who have practiced the one leg stand and the walk and turn so well they can do it just fine with a BAC higher than 0.20.

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