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Rhomberg Alphabet

Posted by Rob Melchiorre | Oct 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

What is the Rhomberg Alphabet?

The Rhomberg Alphabet is a field sobriety exercise that police officers use during a DUI investigation to help them determine if a person is impaired.  This field sobriety exercise, like all the field sobriety exercises is not a test.  It is not test because is cannot be scored or graded and it is not pass or fail.  The officer can only state whether a person performed well or poorly on the Rhomberg Alphabet.

For the Rhomberg Alphabet the police officer will ask the person to stand with their feet together and hands at their sides. The officer will then ask the person if they speak English, their level of education, and if they know the alphabet.  As long as the person knows English and knows the alphabet the officer will tell the person to recite the alphabet in a non-singing, non-rhythmic manner.  The officer will then perform the alphabet in a non-singing and non-rhythmic manner.  They will then ask the person if they understand the instructions or if they have any questions.  The officer will then ask the person to begin performing the exercise.

What does the police look for in the Rhomberg Alphabet?

The obvious thing police look for is whether a person correctly recite the alphabet.  However, there are other things that officers are trained to look for and observe during this exercise.  They are trained to see how closely a person can follow directions.  For example, the person does not keep their hands at their sides or they recite the alphabet by singing it.  They are also looking at the stance of the person performing the exercise.  Specifically, they are looking to see is a person sways while standing.  

What if the person does not know the alphabet?  What if English is not their first language?

In the rare circumstances that the person does not know the alphabet or English, the police officer has a couple of options.  If the police officer speaks the first language of the person(i.e. Spanish), the officer can request the person recite the Spanish alphabet.  In the alternative the officer can ask the person if they can count in English.  If the person can count, then the officer will have them count in a numerical sequence.

During the Alphabet Field Sobriety Test Do You Recite the Alphabet backwards?

No, this is an urban myth.  I have handled thousands of DUI cases and I have yet to see a case where a police officer has asked a subject of a DUI investigation to recite the alphabet backwards.  Personally, I would not be able to recite the alphabet backwards sober let alone after a couple of drinks.  I believe most would feel and perform similarly is asked to recite the alphabet backwards.

If you messed the alphabet up can you still defend against it?

Yes.  A skilled DUI defense lawyer can explain how nervous you were when you performed this exercise on the side of the road in front of a police officer with other cars whizzing by.  Any time your heart is racing and you are stress you are more likely to make a mistake in even the most simplest of exercises.  I like to use the analogy of when you are counting a something and you lose track of where you were.  When you lose track and you have to start over, this doesn't mean that you cannot count and it does not mean that you are impaired by alcohol.  

Should you perform the Rhomberg Alphabet Field Sobriety exercise?

No, you should not perform the field sobriety exercise and you should politely decline performing it.  As stated above this exercise is not pass or fail.  So even if you recite the alphabet correctly, the officer can hold other things against you such as not following all the directions.  For instance, if the officer tells you to wait until he tells you to begin and you begin reciting the alphabet before he tells you, the officer will hold that against you.  If you pause for a second between letters, the officer will make note of the pause and hold it against you.  I have seen cases where the officer even writes in their report that the person correctly performed the Rhomberg Alphabet, but they were still arrested for DUI.  

This exercise is completely subjective.  Due to this subjectivity and the nerves that a person has when they are being investigated for a DUI, we advise people to politely decline performing the field sobriety exercises.

About the Author

Rob Melchiorre

Mr. Melchiorre is an aggressive, diligent, and passionate attorney. His impressive track record and commitment to legal excellence have led him to honors such as inclusion on the Super Lawyers® Rising Stars list. Prior to founding Keller, Melchiorre & Walsh, PLLC, Mr. Melchiorre was a partner i...


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