I was picking a jury the other day and one of the jurors was a technical writer for the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the people who actually invented the Field Sobriety tests. Well, maybe not invented, but they suggested that they can be standardized. They are of course wrong.
The juror was kind of funny because he said he couldn’t be fair because his job was to take a policy position for NHTSA in their attempt to make the roads safer. The judge immediately agreed to allow him to leave on the court’s motion (???) I wonder whether I would have kept him given the chance.
Field sobriety tests are given to drivers suspected to be under the influence of alcohol. There is a “standardized” set which includes the:
HGN Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
Walk and Turn, and
One Leg Stand.
NHTSA suggests that the HGN is 77% accurate, the Walk and Turn is 68% accurate and the One Leg Stand is 65% accurate.
But they of course are guessing, and are wrong. They tested the tests using police officer candidates that had drank varying amounts of alcohol. Then they judged how well the tests detected their alcohol consumption.
Seems fair right? Well, I think if you thought about it for a moment you would see how it isn’t. Field sobriety tests are not conducted in a classroom. Field sobriety tests are not conducted on people who have nothing at risk. Field sobriety tests are done in the cold, dark windy night, with police “mars” lights whirling in the background, while the driver is yelled at by a “drill sargeant” “military style” police officer with the prospect of going to jail in the back of the test participant’s mind.
To suggest that accuracy percentages based on “classroom” tests are somehow valid, is darling (in how idiotic it is). Also to suggest that certain blood alcohol levels correspond to a certain level of central nervous depression without anything to support it is not science, it is someone’s guess. We shouldn’t rely on guesses when making these rules.
Of course none of this makes it into the courtroom. The officer is simply asked whether he did the tests according to his training and then it is admissible People v. McKown, and the jury is asked to believe that everything is reliable and correct.
What a world.