12 Common Issues with Field Sobriety Tests in Wisconsin

Field Sobriety Tests in Wisconsin

There are two important facts you need to know about taking the field sobriety tests (FSTs) in Wisconsin. First, taking the FSTs is not mandatory. You have the right to refuse the field sobriety tests during your DUI stop, and prosecutors cannot secure a conviction based on the fact that you chose not to voluntarily submit to the FSTs.

Second, if you take the field sobriety tests, your test results will only be used against you. Prosecutors will use your “failure” as evidence of guilt; and, if you do not dispute this evidence successfully, your decision to take the FSTs could lead to a conviction at trial.

Ways a Madison DUI Lawyer May Be Able to Challenge Your Field Sobriety Test Results

But, while failing the field sobriety tests can have severe negative repercussions, it is possible to challenge poor performance on the FSTs in many cases. Here are 12 examples of ways a Madison DUI lawyer may be able to challenge your field sobriety test results in court:

1. Failure to Provide Adequate Instructions

Before administering the field sobriety tests, the police must provide adequate instructions in the language you can understand. If your arresting officer failed to provide you with appropriate instructions, this means that you had virtually no way of passing the FSTs.

2. Failure to Administer the Standardized Tests

There are three “standardized” field sobriety tests that police in Wisconsin are supposed to use: (i) the walk-and-turn test, (ii) the one-leg stand test, and (iii) the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. If your arresting officer administered any other type of test (i.e. asking you to outstretch your arm then put your finger to your nose), your performance on this test shouldn’t be used against you.

The police are supposed to use the standardized FSTs because these tests have proven to be the most reliable (when they are administered appropriately). However, studies have shown that even these tests only provide an accurate assessment of a driver’s impairment level around 80% to 90% of the time.

3. Improper Administration of the Standardized Tests

When administering the standardized field sobriety tests, the police must follow a rigid set of protocols. If they don’t (or if prosecutors cannot prove that they did), this can entitle a driver to have his or her FST results kept out of court.

4. Uneven or Unstable Ground

The standardized field sobriety tests are designed to be performed on flat ground with no hazards or obstructions. If the police had you perform the field sobriety tests on a sloped shoulder, if the ground was muddy or slick, or if there were rocks or debris on the ground, these are all factors that could invalidate the results of your FSTs.

5. Poor Weather or Lighting Conditions

The standardized field sobriety tests are also designed to be performed in good weather and lighting conditions. If it was raining or snowing when you got pulled over, or if it was dark or dimly lit, these factors could have negatively impacted your performance on the FSTs. Puddles, ice or snow on the ground, and being blinded by passing cars’ headlights are also common factors that can cause failure regardless of a driver’s level of intoxication.

6. Testing Your Physical Agility

While the field sobriety tests are intended to test a driver’s level of intoxication, what they often test is a driver’s physical agility. Even when they are not under the influence of alcohol, many people struggle to stand on one leg for an extended period of time or walk heel-to-toe without losing their balance. If you lacked the physical agility required to pass the field sobriety tests, then your test results in no way suggest that you are guilty of DUI.

7. Testing Your Ability to Follow Instructions

Many people fail the standardized field sobriety tests because they have difficulty following the arresting officer’s instructions. If you were unable to follow along, this does not necessarily mean that you were drunk. It could simply mean that you had trouble remembering everything the officer told you or that you misinterpreted the instructions in some way.

8. Testing Your Ability to Focus Under Stress

There is no denying that getting pulled over is stressful. It gets even more stressful when the officer asks if you have been drinking and then asks you to step out of the car. If you, like many people, find it difficult to focus when you are under stress, you could very easily fail the FSTs even if you are completely sober.

9. No Quantitative Scoring System

Unlike the breathalyzer, which measures your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the field sobriety tests do not have a quantitative scoring system. Instead, your “failure” is based on the arresting officer’s subjective interpretation of your performance. Even if you make one minor mistake during one field sobriety test, this can be enough for an officer to arrest you for being drunk behind the wheel.

10. Improper Interpretation of Your Performance

It is not at all uncommon for the police to misinterpret drivers’ performance on the field sobriety tests. From failing to observe the entire test to not having a clear understanding of a test’s parameters, there are a variety of issues that can lead to an improper interpretation of a driver’s performance.

11. No Second Chance

Typically, once you make a mistake on a field sobriety test, that’s it. You don’t get a second chance. Even if you are fully capable of passing the tests, you won’t get the opportunity to do so. 

12. Alternate Explanations for a “Failed” Test

From physical injuries to unstable shoes, and from health conditions to baggy clothes, there are numerous issues that can explain a “failed” field sobriety test. If there is any alternate explanation for your failure, an experienced Madison DUI lawyer should be able to use this to help protect you.

Discuss Your Case with a Madison DUI Lawyer in Confidence

Did you fail the field sobriety tests during your DUI stop in Madison? If so, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. While it may be possible to challenge your FST results, it may be necessary to assert other defenses as well. To discuss your case with an experienced Madison DUI lawyer in confidence, call 608-257-0440 or tell us how we can reach you online now.

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