Understanding Field Sobriety Tests Used in Massachusetts

June 05, 2022 by Anthony Riccio

Field sobriety is a complex topic for lawyers, officers, and citizens alike. Many U.S. states have different laws that are shadowed by the varying amount of controversial roadside drug tests. Massachusetts is certainly not exempt from this controversy and has found itself in the news for a number of different reasons pertaining to DUI testing. Despite the controversy, it is often up to legal teams to defend their clients and unmask the uncertainties that surround field tests.

Lawmaker Charged with DUI After Standard Field Sobriety Test

Field sobriety tests are extremely common in nearly every state in the nation. Most people, historically speaking, that have been pulled over for a suspected Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offense have been assessed with a field sobriety test. These have been so common that people from all walks of life have found themselves convicted of DUI charges as a result of the roadside tests.

Massachusetts state lawmaker and representative David LeBoeuf was pulled over in late April after two individuals called the police on an erratic driver on the expressway. He was caught in his black Ford SUV on Interstate 93 in Quincy, Massachusetts late at night. As is common procedure, LeBoeuf was pulled over quickly, and the police approached his vehicle.

One of the first things that police officers recognized was the strong odor of alcohol on Representative LeBoeuf. He was furthermore assessed to be unable to follow instructions and was unsteady on his feet during his field sobriety test. After the police took him into custody, he was determined to have a blood alcohol content level of four times the legal limit. Further investigation found a number of empty bottles of alcohol in the cupholders of his car. This was a sure-fire case in which a field sobriety test successfully got a drunk person off of the road.

DUI Not Performed on a Police Officer who Caused a Wreck, County Integrity Called into Question

What has recently come under some degree of scrutiny is the transparency and integrity of the officers conducting field sobriety tests. Marie Berthe Francois was pulled over on the side of the road as she needed to reset her GPS device in order to get to her destination safely. She followed all necessary precautions and even set on her yield lights so that incoming vehicles could see her on the side of the road in the darkness of night.

Immediately adjacent to her vehicle was an on-ramp for the expressway that she was on. Although seemingly out of harm’s way, her life would change indefinitely in a flash. A police cruiser came barreling through, smashing into the back of her car and flipping another car that was traveling down the highway. Upon discovery of an ambulance, Francois was rushed to the hospital with a separated shoulder, nerve damage, and a lifelong condition of decreased motor function in her extremities.

Despite the severity of the crash, the entire deal was kept under the covers by officials. The police officer even ended up being chief of his department. Despite police records proving that Officer Gomes caused the accident, no citation was ever issued to the policeman. His cruiser was replaced with Massachusetts taxpayer dollars, and no field sobriety test was ever issued – despite indications that Gomes was driving while intoxicated.

The Accuracy (or Lack Thereof) of Field Sobriety Tests

The whole controversy caused even more speculation about the conduction of field sobriety tests. Their use has been standard practice since the late 1970s and is composed of the normal, simple tests of standing on one leg and holding a gaze. Yet there is more to the accuracy of these exams than meets the eye.

According to a study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the one-legged stand test is 65% accurate. At a similar rate, the walk-in turn test has a 68% efficacy rating. Furthermore, the horizontal gaze test only has an accuracy rating of 77%. Despite these glaringly troubling figures, the harrowing reality is that officer error rates account for many more people wrongfully convicted of a DUI. When including the human error in conducting the exams, Only about one-half of field sobriety tests were accurate in determining if someone was under the influence of alcohol.

Checkpoints Announced in Mass. Despite Controversy Surrounding the Accuracy of Breathalizers

These numbers are troubling for those living in the United States. These tests are conducted on a regular basis and are constantly used to prosecute people for DUIs. Yet even another common tool, the breathalyzer test, has come under recent scrutiny. Many Massachusetts prosecutors have stopped using breathalyzer tests as there has been growing concern about the reliability of the DUI-detecting devices.

However, this does not mean that police officers themselves have stopped using them when attempting to discern who and who is not driving while intoxicated. In fact, the state insists that they are accurate and has continued pressing for their use. The Massachusetts Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) is alleged to be using uncertified operators to examine the devices. This body is responsible for the calibration and determination of the reliability of these machines that are used on a daily basis.

All of the concerns of determining whether someone has an illegal amount of alcohol in their system comes to a head once state police set up random sobriety checkpoints for civilians to partake in at a moment’s notice. These are simply announced over Facebook and raised serious concern amongst communities. While it is the goal of these checkpoints to keep intoxicated drivers off of the road, the real fallout may be much greater as the tools to determine who is and is not intoxicated are inherently flawed.

Potential Legal Fallout of Inaccurate DUI Testing

Civilians being wrongly accused of driving under the influence have come into the limelight. Attorneys have seen these instances occurring across the state in recent times as a result of the unreliability of sobriety determination tools that were previously thought and expected to be of high quality and trustworthy. The last line of defense for the civilians is DUI defense firms which have been working around the clock with experts to ensure that the balance of justice is true.