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The Impact of Physical and Medical Conditions on Field Sobriety Tests in Boston


Massachusetts takes impaired driving seriously. They have some of the stiffest penalties in the country, and this surely helps explain the low drunk driving rate. Field sobriety tests are a primary tool used by police when investigating these crimes, but they’re not always trustworthy. In fact, physical and medical conditions can affect field sobriety tests.

Unfortunately, these roadside assessments have various disadvantages even when conducted under ideal circumstances. This is why it’s so important to understand your rights. If you’re charged with operating a vehicle under the influence (OUI), don’t make the mistake of believing a field sobriety test by Boston police has sealed your fate.

How Trustworthy Are Roadside Impairment Tests?

Police and prosecutors put a great deal of trust in field sobriety tests. In fact, these assessments can be used to support an OUI conviction even in the absence of a failed chemical test (e.g., breathalyzer). However, there are a variety of issues with these officer-conducted evaluations. Such problems include:

  • Subjectivity: Unfortunately, field sobriety tests involve a high level of subjectivity on the part of police officers. Their individual biases and perceptions could affect outcomes.
  • Limited indicators: While prosecutors may claim that these assessments test for intoxication, they really only test balance and physical coordination.
  • Lack of training: A lack of training or consistent usage can result in errors on the part of officers administering these tests.
  • Lack of standardization: There are standardized procedures for conducting field sobriety tests, but Boston police may fail to utilize them.
  • External factors: Slick roads, unexpected winds, and other external factors can affect a person’s performance on impairment assessments.

Clearly, field sobriety tests by Boston police officers have serious issues. This is particularly disheartening since these assessments are sometimes all that’s needed to secure a conviction. Due to these inherent problems, though, citizens are not required to consent to the assessments. Unlike chemical tests, there are no repercussions for refusing.

If you’ve already taken such a test, though, it’s important to remember that failing will not necessarily result in a conviction.

How Can Physical Health Issues Affect Field Sobriety Tests?

Another major problem with field sobriety tests is that they cannot account for individual variability in performance. For instance, consider the limited indicators discussed above. While a lack of balance may be indicative that one person is inebriated, it may only be evidence of clumsiness for another individual. Also, it could mean the testee’s health conditions are interfering.

For instance, physical impairments can easily affect the outcome of a field sobriety test. Balance problems, mobility issues, and medical conditions affecting coordination can affect test performance. It’s also possible that fatigue could affect how a person performs on these evaluations. Additionally, certain medications and other medical conditions can interfere.

Clearly, physical and medical conditions affect field sobriety tests to a high degree. That’s why it may be in your best interest to fight back against a Boston OUI charge.

How Can Mental Health Issues Affect Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests can be helpful to police in certain situations. However, it’s not just a person’s physical condition that could make these assessments unreliable. Even mental health issues could affect the outcome of a roadside test. For instance, medications for anxiety and other psychiatric issues can affect coordination and a host of other physical abilities.

Additionally, cognitive impairments could affect performance on certain indicators. For instance, depression, anxiety, and cognitive disorders can make it difficult to follow instructions during a field sobriety test. Similarly, high levels of stress can interfere with a person’s focus and decision-making abilities. This will affect overall performance.

With these and other potential issues, it’s a miracle that any field sobriety test holds up in Boston courts.

What if You’re Charged With OUI?

If you’ve failed a roadside impairment assessment, you may think that an OUI conviction is unavoidable. As discussed throughout this guide, however, this is not always the case. Various issues with field sobriety tests can call their accuracy into question. As such, you should never take the prosecutor at their word when they say that they have enough to convict you.

In fact, not even a failed chemical test necessarily means you’re guilty. We recently discovered that the breath alcohol tests used by Boston officers were malfunctioning for years. Even worse, the police tried to hide this fact. Put simply, you should never just accept the idea that an OUI conviction can’t be avoided. The consequences are simply too severe.

Contact us today at The Law Office of Brian Simoneau by calling (508)-625-5776. We know that physical and medical conditions affect field sobriety tests, and we can use this and other defenses to advocate on your behalf.

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