Medical Issues and the Effects on Field Sobriety Tests

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During a consultation, a lot of people will explain to me a medical issue they have that would cause their performance on the field sobriety tests to be unreliable. Many people are unaware of how their medical issues actually affect their OWI case. The main question to determine is whether or not the officer first had knowledge of your condition at the time of conducting the field sobriety tests.

The procedural placement of the field sobriety test is where the officer need to obtain enough probable cause to believe that you’re intoxicated in order to collect a sample of your breath with a Preliminary Breath Test. Furthermore, the officer has to have enough probable cause for the arrest, which is a higher standard than “probable cause to believe.” Now what that means is that the court looks at the subjective knowledge of the officer. So we first ask, did you tell the officer about your medical condition? If not, then unfortunately it wouldn’t impact the probable cause analysis. It may help at a jury trial to convince them that the results are unreliable, but at that point the jury will also see the chemical blood test results showing what your blood alcohol content actually was. Therefore, the question on the reliability of the field sobriety tests likely won’t give much weight in deciding whether or not you were over the legal limit.

Now if you did tell the officer about your medical condition, then at that point it is in the officer’s knowledge at the time of the tests. Therefore, we take that into account to determine if he then followed proper procedure for knowing that the tests may be invalid. The officer should still have you attempt all three field sobriety tests. At the end of the tests, the officer should then take extra steps to rule out your medical condition as the reasoning for the failed performance on the tests. So if your medical condition affects your balancing, then the officer should conduct further tests that do not test your balancing skills, such as the alphabet test. Furthermore, the officer should also offer the Preliminary Breath Test BEFORE arresting you to give you the opportunity to once again prove that you failed the tests due to your medical condition and not due to you being intoxicated.

Therefore, if the officer did not take any of these extra tests and arrested you at the conclusion of the main three field sobriety tests written about in our past blogs, then you can file a motion in front of the judge arguing that the officer did not have enough probable cause to believe you were intoxicated or for the arrest and potentially have the case dismissed.

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