DUI Defense Strategies
DUI lawyers will routinely turn to the portion of the DUI investigation conducted by the police officer where he/she has the suspect step out of the car and perform sobriety testing. These tests are commonly referred to by many names, including:
- Field Sobriety Exercises
- Roadside Examinations
- Sobriety Tests
Among DUI lawyers, prosecutors, and law enforcement, these tests are mostly referred to as “field sobriety exercises” and are abbreviated as “FSE’s.”
In theory, these exercises are intended to determine if a person’s normal faculties are impaired to the point where they are DUI. The tests accomplish this task by testing a person’s mental and physical abilities at the same time.
For this reason, field sobriety exercises are considered “divided attention tasks.” Meaning, that a person must make use of his/her mental and physical abilities at the same time.
These exercises were specifically designed this way because driving is itself a divided attention task that requires the simultaneous use of one’s body and mind.
- Maintaining a steady direction of travel
- Engaging brakes versus gas pedal
- Turning a steering wheel accurately
- Obeying rules of the road
Field Sobriety Exercises:
- Walking in a straight line
- Walking heel to toe
- Touching finger to nose
- Following exercise instructions
- Walking heel to toe, in a straight
line, while counting paces
One must also be able to safely push the brakes when it comes time to stop, slow down or act in emergency and also safely push the gas pedal when it is time to accelerate or get out of someone else’s way, such as an emergency vehicle.
Having the balance to depress the intended pedal is just as important.
A driver must also be able to see and hear clearly. Driving clear of obstacles, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles is as essential as being able to read road signs and turn signals.
Operating a motor vehicle also has a very simple mental component. It isn’t complicated, but a person needs to be able to process simple commands, such as “stop,” “yield,” “caution,” etc. Not to mention act in emergency and react to other drivers on the road in a safe manner.
Most people take these skills for granted, but driving a car is a task that is both mental and physical at the same time. If you have ever broken your arm, leg, or hand, you know how hard it is to drive without use of one of your limbs!
When the influence of alcohol, certain chemicals, and controlled substances are added to human being’s normal functioning, his/her ability to use their mind sharply and their body controllably becomes impaired. This impairment may even magnify when performing a task that requires both sets of skills, such as driving.
Given this reality, field sobriety exercises were specifically designed to test a person’s ability to
drive by mimicking the combination of simple mental and physical tasks that driving requires.
As a result, DUI lawyers, prosecutors, and law enforcement will all look to field sobriety exercises as a source of evidence in any DUI case. However, as we will discuss in the next section, field sobriety exercises are not 100% reliable in every case and they can be manipulated to make a person appear impaired when they are not. While they are very telling in some instances, there are many DUI cases where a suspect’s performance on the exercises is overblown and described by the police in a way to make the defendant appear impaired when he/she really was not.