October 12, 2012

Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests - The Alphabet and Reverse Count Tests

This will conclude the blog series on non-standardized field sobriety tests, and we will then discuss the standardized field sobriety tests. These remaining tests are easier to explain and more intuitive.

Alphabet Test
The alphabet test is just as it sounds, with a minor twist. The subject is instructed to recite the alphabet without singing or rhyming it. This is quite simple, but can you think of the last time you recited the alphabet without throwing in a sing-song element to it- "a, b, c, d, E, F, G..."? Or without "LMNOP" all being lumped in together sounding like one word? That is not allowed, and is a clue.

An officer will note all deviations from a flat, or straight recording of all the letters. The trick to this test is to act as if you are reciting the letters to a telegraph operator. However, most subjects are not aware that even the "elemenope" they state will be an indicator of impairment. The officer will write down every letter the subject says, and note if there is a pause, or break in the cadence of the letters. Anything and everything the subject may do or say is an indicator of impairment.

It is important to note that great differences in the order of letters are more difficult to defend- as are the occasional rambling of letters in a random order. While this is rare, it has occurred. This test may be intuitive in terms of it's ability to test impairment (i.e "only a drunk person would screw up the alphabet") there are no studies or examinations to determine that result. For instance, will some non-impaired people make one mistake, or say "elemenope" regardless of the instruction? Without scientific studies, it is only the intuitive element of the tests that is valuable, but nothing more.

The unfortunate part of this test is that law enforcement officers will use it to determine if someone is impaired or not. This test, as well as some of the other non-standardized field sobriety tests fall under the bolstering category. That is, an officer will have an inclination someone is impaired, and these tests will be used to bolster that opinion. Again, from the driver's perspective all bad, and nothing good.

The Reverse Count Test
In this test the subject is requested to count backwards from 75-55. This test is meant to test the mental flexibility of the subject. Again, it is not a task that is difficult, but it is not intuitive. Some of the clues that an officer may note are the subject missing numbers("62, 61, 59"), or repeating numbers ("61, 60, 60, 59") or sometimes repeating entire sets of numbers- for instance 69-60, then repeating them again as opposed to moving down to 59.

Again, there is no scientific basis for the results, or which clues are significant and what is an anomaly. A scientific study could determine, for instance, if one mistake is typical, but two is an indicator of impairment. Or perhaps that only a subject with a college level education (or high school level of education) would find this test to be significant. A rigorous test could find that this test is valuable, or completely irrelevant- that all people, impaired by alcohol or not, make mistakes on this test.

And therefore we touch on the value of the standardized field sobriety tests. Standardized field sobriety tests have been evaluated through a process that stands up to a certain level of scientific scrutiny. In the next field sobriety test series we will discuss first what makes the tests standardized, and then each individual standardized field sobriety test.

As always, I remain available at (619) 259-0384 to discuss any field sobriety test, standardized or otherwise, chemical BAC testing, or any DUI or criminal defense question.