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No Right to Courtroom Demonstration of Field Sobriety Test

A field sobriety test is an investigative tool used by law enforcement officers investigating suspected intoxication. Generally, when a criminal trial involves the question of whether a particular person was intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or drugs, and when one or more field sobriety tests were used in the investigation, a police officer may testify about the tests given and the suspect's performance. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Cooper, M2013-01084-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 12-17-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling denying the defense request for a courtroom demonstration of one of the tests about which testimony was presented.

In the Cooper case, the Defendant had been charged with DUI. A police officer testified at the trial about field sobriety tests which had been administered at the scene of the suspected DUI, including one called the "Romberg Task." That particular test requires the suspect to stand with both feet together, arms down at the side, head tilted back, eyes closed, and open the eyes in exactly thirty seconds. According to the theory behind this test, a suspect waiting longer than thirty seconds to open his or her eyes may indicate the influence of a depressant, such as alcohol. Opening the eyes too soon may indicate the influence of a stimulant ... such as methamphetamine or cocaine.

In challenging the reliability of this particular test in court, the defense requested that the testifying police officer be subject to the "task" in court in front of the jury to see how accurate the officer's performance may be. The trial court denied the request.

On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned that the witness' ability to perform the test was not relevant to the accused's ability to perform it or to the accused's intoxication at the time in question.

Notably, as discussed in the previous blog here, the case was remanded for a new trial for other reasons (due to a sequestration rule violation).

For more information on what evidence may be used in a criminal trial, contact Hindman & Associates.

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