Moving partsLaw enforcement's stated purpose for conducting field sobriety tests is to exclude from the highway a motorist potentially influenced by central nervous system malfunctions caused by toxins. They claim that the body's internal sensors, including those that keep us standing upright  and those that discern the positioning of our body and its extremities in space in our mind's eye are adversely affected by drugs other than alcohol. Our minds and central nervous systems are complex. But that complexity can mislead officers who may erroneously suspect narcotic impairment. If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, ​contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889.

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cedar rapids / iowa city criminal defense

Cedar Rapids OWI Lawyer: What is the Romberg test in the context of DRE testing

by David A. Cmelik Law PLC


The Romberg balance test “typically requires that the subject stand and exhibit his ability to balance with his head tilted back and eyes closed.” State v. Sappingfield, 873 N.W.2d 551 n.3 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015). The theory is that someone who is under the influence of a narcotic will not be able to maintain their balance with their head tilted back and their eyes closed. The Romberg test is usually administered by an officer certified to do so.

The Romberg test is considered part of so-called Drug Recognition Expertise, or, DRE. The Romberg test is said to test the body’s accelerometer, to borrow a simpler analogy from the smart phone lexicon. When you turn your phone to the side, your phone knows it and changes the orientation of the screen. 

According to proponents of DRE, all of this requires a fully functioning central nervous system—just like your smart phone— requires an internal gyroscope, accelerometer, and gravity sensor. In other words, when you are sober, you can stand up straight notwithstanding occasionally losing your balance, you understand how fast you are moving through space, and you know which way is down. Amazingly, your central nervous system is aware of all of this even though you are not necessarily conscious of all of it. In short, if the room is spinning, as it is for some people when they are impaired, their internal positioning sensors are off, and their performance on the Romberg will show that effect. It is possible other illnesses can throw off a Romberg test. However, an officer need only be reasonably sure (“reasonable grounds”) to believe someone is impaired to invoke implied consent and seek a bodily specimen. If a subject refuses, it may well come down to a battle of the experts to educate a jury on the scientific bases of DRE conclusions.

Although administration of DRE began relatively recently, law enforcement and prosecutors will argue that DRE testing employs medical concepts that date back over 100 years. Drug recognition expertise has been offered and admitted in Iowa criminal courts.

Iowa law enforcement officers trained in the administration of standardized field sobriety tests, or, SFSTs, still outnumber those trained in the administration of DRE, which is considered more stringent testing for drugs other than alcohol.

Not every county has a DRE trained officer.

Sixty-one police officers, 37 sheriffs’ offices, 31 state patrol officers, all three public universities, two DOT motor vehicle enforcement officers, and one DNR agent, for a total of 135 DRE officers, are trained to administer DRE testing in Iowa as of publication of this writing.

The training requires 19 total days of training for each officer including a “pre” DRE school of two days, an eight day DRE school, three nights of in-state certification, and an out-of-state certification of seven nights. In contrast, the most recent standardized field sobriety training (SFST) training school is a four day program as part of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

The officers are encouraged by their agencies to “aggressively seek opportunities to utilize their expertise.” So if a DRE officer is nearby a test subject suspected of impairment by something other than alcohol, officers will either seek their advice or call them to the scene of roadside testing. 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC, for an initial consultation today. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that no attorney-client relationship is established by sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet.
 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated, or, impaired, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889 for a free initial consultation and begin charting your course back to life before legal crisis. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.