Question: Are field sobriety tests like counting backwards or reciting the alphabet considered legitimate in Maryland DUI cases?
Answer: You see those types of field sobriety tests in officers that were certified on field sobriety tests back in the ‘80s. Reciting the alphabet and touching your fingers and touching your nose, those are all old school tests that don’t really carry that much weight anymore. The judge can take into account anything that would show impairment, but the judge relies on that standardized field sobriety tests. The main reason being is that if it’s the person’s second language, really how accurate is counting the alphabet? If a person has a learning disability, how accurate is counting the alphabet? Or counting numbers from one number to another? So taking into account, you know, you don’t know what all the variables are in a field sobriety test like that. And that’s why they’re not really relied on. There’s no scientific data behind them.
Now, what the judge would likely be looking at is how the person sounded, whether they responded in an even halfway cognizant manner. But, no, those tests kind of, whenever I as a defense attorney see an officer doing those kind of tests, it leads me to believe that they A) don’t do a lot of field sobriety tests or B) were certified back in the ‘80s and haven’t had any recertification. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has the standardized tests, the three tests, that I guess are as accurate as they’re going to be, but the other tests, there’s just too many variables that we just can’t rely on. So, the judge can put weight into them, but I generally don’t see them giving a lot of weight to those field sobriety tests.