The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

February 14, 2013

Party with a purpose: Police officers train in DUI field testing

— LEWISBURG — It was a party with a purpose, and that purpose was to get hammered.

Three women spent Wednesday morning drinking their favorite alcoholic beverages in Room 201 of the Best Western Plus Country Cupboard Inn near Lewisburg. One guy, “Bobby,” was there for moral support, recovering from a hangover from the day before and sharing in pizza and snacks.

And all this was done under the watchful eye of Cpl. Craig Polen, of state police at Milton, who would soon turn these folks loose on about a dozen officers from six law enforcement agencies.

A setup? Hardly. This was Standard Field Sobriety Testing, where officers learn how to test people under suspicion for driving under the influence — and volunteers gladly tie one on to help them.

There are three parts to field testing:

n Horizontal gaze nystagmus, an involuntary jerking of the eyes that becomes more evident when a person is drunk.

n Walk and turn, a “divided attention” test that assesses the driver’s ability to pay attention and follow directions.

n The one-leg stand, where the suspect stands with one foot six inches off the ground while counting aloud. Actions such as putting down the raised foot, swaying, losing count or hopping can indicate intoxication.

But this isn’t something that can be taught readily in a classroom, and that’s why you need drunken people.

Polen kept detailed logs on everyone’s alcohol consumption: what they drank, how much, when. Pennsylvania calls intoxicated a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent.

But one person’s drunk is another person’s buzz. For instance ...

“Jess1,” a spunky, petite woman, had drank enough to get her blood alcohol to 0.14 percent — and to make herself sick. After that, she was the perfect test subject.

“Jess2,” a taller, slender blonde, had seven bottles of Twisted Tea, a booze-infused iced tea drink, but got her BAC to just 0.088 and chose a second husband while waiting in the hall.

And then there was “Sara,” about 5-foot-5-inches tall and still standing after drinking a 1.5-liter bottle of wine. Her BAC was 1.67, but she could carry on a conversation, albeit a funny, slurred one.

Let’s not forget Bobby, the sober one, who went first to Deputies Jeff Tice and Adam DePauw, of the Union County Sheriff’s Department.

“Not bad,” DePauw said of Bobby’s results. “He didn’t show too many cues, so I believe he’s sober.”

Later, they would assess Jess2, who talked enough during the tests that Tice asked if she was refusing to do them, and Jess1. Let’s just say the deputies would arrest them both.

While funny, the point of all this is that field sobriety tests must be followed to the letter to hold up in court. A case can be tossed out if a lawyer can prove, or at least inject the idea, that a test wasn’t done correctly for his or her client.

That’s what state trooper Andrew Peters, who is part of the Pennsylvania DUI Association, explained to the officers after their encounters.

“It’s very important to follow the instructions to the letter,” Peters said. Specific instructions also are meant to divulge specific information. “Don’t be afraid to correct them.”

But do be afraid of Room 201. It’s pretty certain the party resumed.

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