Written by attorney James Morris Balagia

Do Weight and Age Impact Sobriety Tests?

Can a person's age or weight affect their ability to attempt and pass the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests? Yes. Not only do age and weight affect the ability to pass the agility tests but officers are warned about this in the actual training manual that NHTSA publishes and trains the law enforcement officers with. In the initial field validation studies that provided the support for the SFST program, persons over 65 years of age and anyone 50 pounds or more overweight were excluded from the studies. Since there were no persons in these excluded groups allowed to attempt the agility tests there is no basis for asking them to attempt these tests. Quite simply, the police have no valid reason to even consider giving these tests to members of these groups. Unbelievably, NHTSA has even lowered the age to 60 years or older with no basis for that change. Members of the defense bar that have given an in-depth look at the NHTSA SFST program are offended by the junk science that is accepted as valid in our area of practice. Police officers are often heard on videotaped arrests telling the accused person that they will "take that (age and weight) into consideration" when making their subjective judgment on whether to arrest or not. I have never had an officer adequately provide an answer under oath when I ask them how they actually adjusted the tests for age, weight, injury, lack of coordination, illness, handicap, etc. The officers have had to admit that there is no way to adjust the scoring that NHTSA and there is no adjustment provided by the program. The bottom line is that they used the disadvantage to assist in making an arrest. Common sense tells us that as people age they are not as coordinated as they were when they were younger. We also know that heavier people cannot balance as well as people that are fit and in good shape. It is almost silly to attempt to justify giving these tests to the other groups I listed above but police officers do so every day. And what is even more disgusting is that jurors will use these invalid test results against these citizens as if that were fair. The people need to wake up and take a look into the courtrooms of America on these issues. I am in constant and daily contact with DWI trial lawyers from around the country and they all agree that this issue is out of control in America's courtrooms. Jamie Balagia DWI Trial Attorney

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