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Know the facts about field sobriety tests in Maryland

Anyone can make a bad decision and wind up dealing with roadside tests and an arrest for driving under the influence. A Baltimore County Councilman was recently sentenced to two years of supervised probation and a one-year suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to drinking and driving. According to police, Huff's blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, was 0.20 percent, more than twice Maryland's legal limit of 0.08 percent, and he failed multiple field sobriety tests.

Field sobriety tests -- which include the walk and turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus and the single leg stand -- were designed to establish evidence of intoxication and probable cause for a DUI arrest. However, research has cast doubts on their accuracy. One study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences showed that these tests are most helpful if a person's BAC is significantly higher than 0.08 percent. When someone's alcohol level is close to 0.08 percent, the study found that police officers will often overestimate the BAC.

This raises an important question: If a driver's BAC is close to 0.08, is this kind of DUI test really useful?

The biggest drawback to field sobriety tests is their subjectivity. Results are based on the judgment of police officers rather than on hard facts and objective data. Another problem is that the tests are often administered improperly or scored inaccurately. Not every law enforcement officer has been adequately trained and educated in the specific guidelines for administering the tests.

Fortunately, squad cars are now fitted with cameras, so videos of improper or inaccurate field sobriety tests can be used as evidence for the defense.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Huff sentenced to two years of supervised probation in DUI case," April 30, 2013

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