Floating Field Sobriety Tests, Part 3


This series of blogposts has been addressing the unusual floating ritual known as "Afloat Field Sobriety Tests", which are usually performed immediately prior to a "boating while intoxicated" or "boating under the influence" arrest. As you will see here and in my prior posts on this topic, these "tests" usually consists of all or part of the following 6-part medley of exercises:

1. The "alphabet test".

2. The "25 to 1 Count"

3. The "Finger Count"

4. The "Palm Pat"

5. The "Finger to Nose"

6. The "Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus/Vertical Gaze Nystagmus" test

The first five have no scoring system. The sixth has a system of "points" viewed with scepticism by most people who are not directly interested in either arresting or convicting people of DWI or BWI. So far, in this 6 part series, I have reviewed the exercises called the "Finger to Nose Test" and the "Count 25 to 1 Test".

Today's topic is the bizarre ritual known as the "Palm Pat Test". As you read this, ask yourself whether you think this exercise has any rational bearing on whether a driver's ability to operate a boat is impaired by alcohol. As with the prior exercises, this entire test procedure, including the "Introduction to the Palm Pat Test", the "Test Considerations", "Instructions" and "Possible Indicators of Intoxication" are all lifted right from the "Boating While Intoxicated: manual used during water based law enforcement training.

The entire instructions and description of this "test" fits on half of one page of the manual (page 7-E-10), including generous spacing. Here it is:

Palm Pat Test

"Introduction to the Palm Pat Test: This will test the subject's ability to coordinate simple hand movements with speech, and follow simple directions."

NOTE: Like you would while driving a boat? How many times do you need to pat your palms while counting faster and faster while you drive your motorboat or sail your sailboat?

"Test Considerations: People with injuries to the hands may have difficulty with this test."

NOTE: I'm glad the guys who thought up this one made that test consideration clear to all pat palms.

"Instructions for the test: The standard instructions for the Palm Pat Test are...
* Place your hands together palm to palm like this. Demonstrate.
* Do not start until you are told.
* When I tell you to begin, turn the top hand over and count 1,2,1,2 like this. Demonstrate.
* Speed up as you go and do not stop until told.
* Do you understand?
* Begin the test. (Observe 5 sets).
* You can stop.

There is no objective scoring system. Do YOU believe that "coordinating these simple hand movements with speech", coupled with the driver's ability to "follow (these) simple instructions" should be admissible evidence in a criminal trial, and used to take away a driver's boating and drivng licenses? Is this a good way to determine whether some one should go to jail?

Now, on to "scoring" the "test":

"Possible indicators of intoxication: Below is a list of possible indicators of intoxication.

* Did not speed up. (NOTE: Says who? This test is not timed!).
* Unable to complete.
* Sliding of hand.
* Improper count.

* Hesitation. (a bell-weather sign of drunkenness if there ever was one, eh?).

There is no point scoring system, grading scale, or scorecard for this subjective exercise. It is entirely up to the officer on a lake or pond whether to arrest some one after this ritual.

This is but one of the 6 part "floating battery" of tests performed on citizens unfortunate enough to be stopped for "random", "routine" or "safety" stops. I will be focusing on the remaining three exercises in coming posts.

Have a safe weekend, and arm yourself with the knowledge of your rights as to whether you HAVE to play a starring role in the "field sobriety testing" tragedy BEFORE you are asked to do them. Check with a lawyer in your state who defends people accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), operating under the influence (OUI) , boating while intoxicated (BWI) and boating under the influence (BUI).

If you are in New Hampshire and have questions regarding DWI, DUI, OUI, or baoting while intoxicated please feel free to call me at 603-893-0074.

All the best,

Mark Stevens
5 Manor Parkway
Salem, NH 03079




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