When police officers pull over a driver whom they suspect of driving under the influence, they generally administer a few field sobriety tests, in addition to having the driver blow into a Breathalyzer or similar device.
These standard field sobriety tests involve physical activities that test a person’s ability to do things like stand on one leg and walk in a straight line and then turn. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test measures eye movements, which are impacted when a person has been drinking or using drugs
These are considered tests that involve simple movements that most people can easily do if they’re not under the influence. However, for many people, they’re impossible even when they’re completely sober. As our population ages, more and more drivers have a range of disabilities that may have no impact on their driving, but make it impossible to pass a round of field sobriety tests.
Officers can arrest people for suspicion of DUI if they perform poorly on their field sobriety tests or can’t complete them, particularly if they refuse to take a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test to determine if there is alcohol on their breath. Even if they show no other evidence of intoxication, an officer can say that he or she had enough evidence for a reasonable suspicion based on the field sobriety test performance.
If that was the only reason for the arrest and a defendant and his or her attorney can show that the poor performance or inability to perform the required actions was the result of a disability or other physical issue, a judge may rule that the “evidence” and the case should be thrown out.
If you are stopped for suspicion of DUI and you have a disability, injury or other condition that you believe may impact your ability to pass the field sobriety tests, it’s best to inform the officers. You may be hesitant to admit to your friends that arthritis is impairing your ability to move or that it may be time to get a new hip, but telling an officer can save you a lot of trouble.
Source: Lextalk, “Field Sobriety Tests & Disabilities,” Michael Kraut, accessed Dec. 15, 2017