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Understanding Field Sobriety Tests

Posted by Christopher Martens | Feb 01, 2024 | 0 Comments

Understanding Field Sobriety Tests

On identifying a driver who might be driving under the influence, an officer has to confirm his suspicion. The officer usually does this by carrying out certain tests to validate his doubt. These tests include field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood and urine tests. Out of all these, the field sobriety tests are the most preliminary. 

If you ever come across this situation, you have the right to refuse the field sobriety tests, but you do have to take the rest of them. You can even reject using a breathalyzer as its results are very unreliable, and you can directly ask the officer for a blood or urine test.

The field sobriety tests aim to check the person's concentration and attention. Before 1981, numerous field sobriety tests were commonly performed on intoxicated drivers. However, in 1981, the research related to field sobriety tests finally reached an end. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration {NHTSA) deduced that amongst all the field sobriety tests that were commonly being exercised, only three were dependable. These three tests are referred to as the ‘standardized field sobriety tests', while all the other tests were placed in the category of ‘non-standardized field sobriety tests.'

The standardized field sobriety tests include one-leg stand, walk and turn, and horizontal gaze Nystagmus. An intoxicated person will be unable to succeed in these tests and the police officers will be able to detect the alcohol in his system. Hence, these tests are often considered as trustworthy tools for identifying whether or not a driver is intoxicated.

If you are suspected of DUI by an officer, you will be asked to take one of these three tests. If you select the one-leg stand test, you will be required to stand on a single foot for approximately thirty seconds and will have to count out aloud while standing on one leg. If you are unable to maintain your balance for around thirty seconds and feel dizzy, the officer decides that you are under the influence of alcohol.

In the walk and turn test, you will be required to take nine steps in a straight line and then have to turn backward and take another nine steps so you return to the point from where you started. While taking every step, you have to count as well. If you fail to walk properly, the officer's suspicion will be confirmed. Moreover, if you leave some space between your toes and heel in this test, the officer can conclude that you have been drinking.

In the final test, the officer will ask you to follow a flashlight, pen, or any other object with your eyes. Normally, an object is placed about thirty feet in front of you and the officer notices whether or not you can concentrate on it for long. In case, you aren't able to follow the object or feel agitated by the flashlight in your eyes, the officer concludes that you are intoxicated.

As the NHTSA approves all the above-mentioned tests, generally the police officers make use of them. However, non-standardized field sobriety tests are also being practiced in some states and their usage varies from one state to another. A few commonly used non-standardized field sobriety tests include touching your nose, picking up coins from the road, and loudly reading the alphabet from A-Z. In the first test, you are asked to close your eyes and bring your feet closer together. Next, you are asked to extend your arms and touch your nose with your index finger. This test aims to examine your balance. In the second test, an officer throws some coins on the road and asks you to pick them up. If you can gather all the coins without feeling dizzy, then you will not be charged with a DUI violation as you were able to coordinate properly.

Whether an officer is exercising standardized or non-standardized field sobriety tests, he must make sure that there is enough light for the suspect to see the road and other objects in the surroundings. If the office makes a suspect take the tests in insufficient light and subsequently arrests him, the suspect can use this move against him in court.

Moreover, the weather and ground must be dry as well to conduct these tests properly. If a suspect is made to walk on wet ground, he might slip and fall and this might make the officer believe that he is intoxicated. If the weather is unfavorable, the officer normally makes use of the horizontal gaze Nystagmus test only. The officer needs to be sure of the reliability of the tests he administers so that he doesn't charge a suspect unfairly. If he feels that a certain field sobriety test is unreliable, he must not administer it and move straight toward chemical tests.

Another thing he must keep in account is the age and weight of the suspect. If the suspect is an elderly and obese person, then the officer should administer the breathalyzer test only. Usually, overweight and elderly people have trouble with the field sobriety tests, making it tough for the officer to determine whether or not they are sober. They will not be able to keep their balance and might sway from side to side because of their obesity or age. Hence, the officer must not arrest an elderly or overweight suspect based on these tests and must conduct proper chemical tests to prove whether or not he or she is intoxicated.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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