Field Sobriety Tests
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What Are Field Sobriety Tests?
When someone is stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, the officer will most likely ask you to perform several field sobriety tests to determine whether alcohol has impaired your ability to drive. Some common field sobriety tests are:
- Alcohol / Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Here, the officer will hold a pen or flashlight about 12 inches from the driver’s face and ask the driver to watch the pen as he moves it from side-to-side. The officer is looking for an involuntary jerking of the eyeball when the pen is as far to the side as possible. Supposedly, the higher the driver’s blood alcohol content, the more the eyeball will jerk.
- Standing on one foot while counting: The driver will stand on one foot, hands at his side, with the other foot extended. The officer may ask the driver to count at the same time.
- Walking an imaginary line heel-to-toe: Here, the driver must walk a straight line, touching the heel of one foot to the toe of the other. The officer may simultaneously give a separate instruction to walk 10 steps forward, turn and then 9 steps back to the starting position, all heel-to-toe.
- Finger-to-nose: With eyes closed and arms extended, the driver will be instructed to touch their nose with an index finger.
- Alternate clapping: Here, the officer asks the driver to clap the palms of his hands together, then the backs of his hands together, while simultaneously counting.
- Recite the alphabet: The officer asks the driver to recite the alphabet, either in its entirety or a portion of it.
- Count backwards: Here, the officer will ask the driver to count backwards from a specified number.
- Fingers-to-thumb: This test requires the driver to touch a specified finger to their thumb at the officer’s command.
Are Field Sobriety Tests Reliable?
These tests are a tool to help the officer determine whether or not there is cause to arrest a driver, and therefore they are extremely subjective. Often times, these tests are not required and will very rarely help a driver’s case. Furthermore, if a driver has a physical condition affecting his ability to perform these tests, such as poor equilibrium, bad back, or a difficulty walking, it will affect the officer’s ability to make an accurate determination. If a driver suffers from one of these conditions and is going to perform field sobriety tests, they should inform the officer of the issues before taking the tests.
Once arrested for a DUI, the defendant should try to challenge the validity of the tests in court. It is important to remember that police routinely videotape stops, so it is likely that the field sobriety test will also be on tape.
Furthermore, several field sobriety tests are extremely inaccurate. For instance, the Alcohol / Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is considered so unreliable and its results are usually excluded from evidence.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you are arrested for drunk driving (DUI or DWI), you should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and what you can expect as your case moves through the criminal justice system.
If you are a victim of a drunk driving accident, you should speak to a personal injury lawyer immediately to learn how the law may help you be made whole again after your injuries.
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Last Modified: 04-14-2014 03:15 PM PDT
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