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DUI Roadside "Sobriety Tests" Questioned

Posted on Sep 21, 2006
From The Ledger (Florida) Thursday, September 21, 2006 DUI Testing Is Questionable Lakeland city commissioners were right Monday: The traffic stop of Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson has been reviewed enough. Based on observations by store clerks and a police officer, there was probable cause to stop Wilkinson as he drove down Memorial Boulevard at 3 a.m. with his headlights off during part of the trip. The commission decided not to place that particular DUI stop under an even more powerful microscope than it has undergone since the early hours of Sept. 2. But the commission needs to more closely examine field-sobriety tests and how they are conducted. Wilkinson's mildly erratic driving and a field-sobriety test resulted in a DUI arrest. His 0.00 percent alcohol breath test reading and negative results from a urine test resulted in the charge being dropped by the State Attorney's Office. Did Wilkinson need to be on the road? He has admitted he was tired from putting up campaign signs in the rain for a few hours. And a detailed exam by another officer at the police station decided that while "not under the influence of any specific drug category . . . he was extremely fatigued to a point that his normal faculties were impaired at the time." The Internet has changed many things, and the availability of a video of Wilkinson's field-sobriety test is one of them. It can be viewed at The Ledger's web site (www.theledger.com/ wilkinsonvideo) so readers can judge for themselves how Wilkinson performed. STRAIGHT LINE, ANYONE? They might also wonder: A sober Wilkinson couldn't pass it. Can any driver? Many wrote letters to the editor raising that question. Judges in County Court, where DUI cases are heard, might want to take the test themselves so they can better relate to its difficulty. It requires a high degree of balance. What percentage of motorists who take a field-sobriety test pass it? Lakeland police officials aren't able to say: No statistics are kept because, without an arrest, there was no reason to record it. But given the outcome in Wilkinson's case (and others exactly like it which were brought to his attention), it's a study worth making. If no motorists can pass it, it's a strong indication the test is too difficult, the subjective judgments made by officers are too strict or officers have their minds made up when they ask for the test in the first place. Unlike the blood or urine test, there is no automatic loss of license for refusing to take a field-sobriety test. Refusal, however, might aggravate an already bad situation into forcing the officer to make an arrest so the compulsory tests can be done. A close reading of the written report on Wilkinson's field-sobriety test also makes it clear that the instructions must be followed exactly: It is noted that Wilkinson touched his nose at times using the "pad" of his finger (the flat portion containing the fingerprint) rather than the "tip" (the end just beyond a closely trimmed fingernail). To view the entire article from the Ledger, click here.
Bob Battle
100% of my practice is devoted to serious traffic defense and criminal litigation in state and federal courts