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Alaska DUI Digest

Weighing in on SFSTs

Posted by John Roberson III | Feb 16, 2024 | 0 Comments

In our latest blog post, we delve into aspects of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) and how factors such as an individual's body weight and the environmental temperature can influence the accuracy and fairness of these tests. Field Sobriety Tests are commonly used by law enforcement to assess impairment in drivers suspected of DUI. However, it's important to understand that these tests are not infallible and can be affected by various external factors.

The Impact of Weight on FST Accuracy

Weight Considerations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledges that while the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test is widely applicable, the Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg Stand tests may not provide reliable indicators of impairment for individuals who are significantly overweight (by 50 pounds or more). This is because excess weight can challenge one's balance and coordination, leading to a higher likelihood of false positives for impairment.

Adaptations for Heavier Individuals

For those significantly above average weight, officers are guided to place greater emphasis on the HGN test and the individual's driving behavior and interactions. In some cases, alternative tests that don't rely on physical coordination may be more appropriate.

The Role of Ambient Temperature in FST Performance

Environmental Factors

Just as individual physical characteristics can influence FST outcomes, so can the weather. Extreme cold or heat can make it difficult for anyone to perform physical tasks, affecting their FST performance. These conditions can cause discomfort, shivering, or exhaustion, which are not indicative of alcohol impairment.

Consideration of Conditions

Officers to take environmental conditions into account when conducting FSTs. If the weather is likely to have affected the individual's ability to perform the tests, this should be documented. The interpretation of FST results must consider these external factors to ensure a fair assessment.

Importance in DUI Defense

When defending against DUI charges, it's essential to scrutinize the conditions under which FSTs were administered. If an individual is significantly overweight or if tests were conducted in extreme weather conditions, this could greatly affect the reliability of the results. In court, emphasizing these factors can be key to challenging the prosecution's evidence, especially if FST results are a primary basis for alleging impairment.

Defense strategies might include questioning the relevance of FST results to the defendant's situation, presenting expert opinions on how weight or temperature can affect FST performance, and highlighting the absence of a direct link between FST performance under specific conditions and actual impairment.

An experienced DUI lawyer understands these nuances. Moreover, these factors demonstrate the importance of a thorough and knowledgeable defense strategy that considers all possible factors affecting FST results.

About the Author

John Roberson III

10+ YEARS OF COMBINED CRIMINAL DEFENSE EXPERIENCE 35+ CRIMINAL JURY TRIALS 500+ CASES ANDCHARGES RESOLVED 18+ YEARSIN ALASKA Experienced & Aggressive Criminal Lawyer About Law Office of John H. Roberson III, LLC John brings diverse experience, dedication, and legal knowledge to each ca...


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