What Do Field Sobriety Tests Prove?

The short answer is not much. At best, they may correlate to someone having a blood alcohol concentration over a .08. At worst, they prove nothing at all. To understand their meaning you must look at how they came into existence and who developed them.

In the late 1970’s, NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) paid for some research to see if tools could be developed for law enforcement to identify people who are potentially DUI / DWI.

There were several studies paid for by the government. Specifically, there are six primary studies relied on by law enforcement. However, none of the studies have been subject to peer review.

1977 Study (Not Peer Reviewed)

1981 Study (Not Peer Reviewed)

1983 Study (Not Peer Reviewed)

Colorado Study (Not Peer Reviewed)

Florida Study (Not Peer Reviewed)

San Diego Study (Not Peer Reviewed)

According to Wikipedia, peer review has been defined as:

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A Person Accused Of DUI Deserves A True Second Opinion

Arizona DUI cases almost always involve a chemical test. There is a movement in Arizona towards the exclusive use of blood testing. It is well settled that blood testing is more accurate than breath testing. But how accurate is blood testing? Can it truly determine a person's blood alcohol concentration? I believe that these are reasonable questions to be asked by a person accused of DUI and facing 30 to 45 days in jail.

Under our system of justice we should demand better answers from the government than "because we said so" or "because our lab has the highest standards." Simple conclusions are not good enough in science and they should not be good enough in justice.

So who checks the government's test results in Arizona? The simple answer is the government. They merely claim to check themselves. I have yet to see one Arizona crime lab that conducts blind testing by an independent party.

Here is how the actual process works. In Arizona DUI cases, The government expert will tell juries that they do double check their work. That is, they have a quality assurance program to make sure the blood alcohol test results are accurate. But the government's oversight of their work is not what you my think. Instead retesting every sample, or randomly retesting a portion of the samples, the lab merely does a technical review.

A "technical review" is not retesting. The Government toxicologist usually puts between 30 to 40 blood samples into a blood tester. Then they turn the blood tester on and leave. The blood tester commonly runs overnight and the printed results are reviewed by the government lab person.

 

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