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Field Sobriety Exercises

Florida law is clear that in order to request a driver to submit to field sobriety tests, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that the individual is driving under the influence. State v. Ameqrane, 39 So. 3d 339, 341 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010) [35 Fla. L. Weekly D1148b]; State v. Taylor, 648 So. 2d 701, 703 (Fla. 1995) [20 Fla. L. Weekly S6b].

In many DUI cases, the criminal defense attorney will file a motion to suppress any mention of the field sobriety exercises or any other evidence gathered thereafter if the arresting officer didn't have reasonable suspicion that the driver was DUI.

In most DUI cases, the arresting officer will perform the follow roadside exercises:

  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN);
  2. The Walk and Turn Exercise;
  3. The One Leg Stand Exercise; and
  4. The Finger to Nose Exercise.

If the prosecutor discusses the officer's training to administer field sobriety exercises, the defense is permitted to question the officer about ways he did not perform the exercises in conformity with his training.

The criminal defense attorney can often Florida Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Screening Procedures Manual to impeach the officer when he fails to administer the exercises correctly.

The defense can also call an expert witness to testify about problems with the way the arresting officer administered or evaluate the driver's performance on field sobriety exercises.

Attorney to Challenge the Field Sobriety Exercises in Florida

If you were charged with DUI, you need a DUI defense attorney who can contest the officer's testimony about your performance on field sobriety exercises.

In many DUI cases, your attorney will request that the court limit testimony about field sobriety exercises. The exercises are supposed to be voluntary, so if you are coerced into performing them, the court might throw the evidence out.

If any testimony about the exercise is allowed into evidence, your attorney needs to be able to challenge whether the exercises were administered properly and evaluated fairly.

Contact a DUI defense lawyer in Tampa, FL, at the Sammis Law Firm. With offices in Tampa in Hillsborough County and New Port Richey in Pasco County, we focus on fighting the DUI charges aggressively at every stage of the case.

Call 813-250-0500 today.

Field Sobriety Exercises as Lay Observations of Impairment

In State v. Meador, 674 So.2d 826 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996) [21 Fla. L. Weekly D1152a], the testimony elicited from the officer regarding the field sobriety exercises would be presented as a lay witness and not as an expert witness.

Pursuant to Meador, the prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office is not permitted to elicit testimony regarding the use of terms such as “test, “pass,” “fail,” or “points.”

The Court in Meador determined that “such terms should be avoided to minimize the danger that the jury will attach greater significance to the results of the field sobriety exercises than to other lay observations of impairment.” Meador, at 674 So.2d 833.

Using the Field Sobriety Exercises Manual for Impeachment

In Gladding v. State, 10 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 985a (Fla. 15th Cir., Oct. 10, 2003) the court found:

[D]uring the trial by jury, Appellant attempted to use the Florida Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Screening Procedures Manual as an authoritative source to question Trooper Bates on whether he administered the field sobriety exercises in accordance with the manual and his training.

Appellant argued that Trooper Bates was not testifying as a lay person or to lay observations, and therefore claimed that he should be able to question the officer as an expert. The trial court sustained the State's objection to Appellant's cross examination of Trooper Bates using the training manual.

An Officer's testimony regarding their observations of a person's performance on field sobriety exercises is not scientific evidence, therefore an officer's testimony should not be treated as expert testimony, but as a lay witness. See Meador at 832.

Furthermore, in Meador v. State, the Fourth District Court of Appeals held that a police officer's observations of a defendant's performance on field sobriety exercises should be treated no differently than other types of testimony of lay witnesses concerning their observations about the driver's conduct and appearance. Meador v. State, 674 So.2d 826, 831 (Fla. 4th DCA) [21 Fla. L. Weekly D1152a].

In State v. Feinstein, 21 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 587a (Fla. Broward Cty. Ct., Dec. 9, 2013), the Court explained:

. . . The defendant argues that once a witness testifies as to their training and experience, then they become an expert witness in lay witness clothing, and that the defendant should be able to call his own expert to refute the testimony of the State's witness.

The defendant seeks to have the Court prohibit the state's witness from testifying regarding their training and experience in field sobriety exercises or any other areas related to this case.

Other courts in Florida have found that the defense can impeach the officer using his manual for administering the field sobriety exercises.

The courts in Florida also allow the defense to call an expert witness on the limitations of field sobriety testing when it comes to judging impairment or for the purpose of showing that the performance on field testing did not indicate impairment.

This article was last updated on Friday, August 17, 2018.

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