Detailed Information About Field Sobriety Tests
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Something that everyone should know is that if you are stopped for a DUI, you do not have to take any type of field sobriety test. You are required by law to submit to a breath test, but you are not required to take a field sobriety test. So, even though motorists suspected of a DUI are routinely asked by police officers to perform one or more field sobriety tests, remember, you do not have to submit to a field sobriety test. These tests are voluntary tests and were developed by police departments as a means of assisting officers in making on the spot roadside determinations about whether a person is under the influence of alcohol.
What a DUI Attorney Says About Field Sobriety Tests
If you asked just about any knowledgeable DUI attorney about field sobriety tests, they will tell you immediately not to take the test. The reason they feel so strongly about not taking a field sobriety test is because field tests are designed to cause the person to fail, which provides what is known as “probable cause.” Probable cause is exactly what the officer requires to arrest a person for impaired driving. Plus the field sobriety test may become an aspect of proof used to convict a person during a trial. It is for that reason, that in order to defend a person effectively, a DUI attorney should know as much of the ins and outs about the field sobriety tests as a police officer.
How Long Have Field Sobriety Tests Been Around?
Field Sobriety tests have been around for as long as law enforcement has been enforcing DUI laws. In fact, when they first began, they were limited only by a law enforcement officer’s imagination. But, by 1970 the NHTSA funded research to evaluate physical coordination tests that were used to determine the relationship between intoxication and driving impairment. The idea was to develop tests that would ultimately provide a more reliable way of identifying a person’s blood alcohol level and to standardize tests. It was during this time that the three-test battery, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand came into being.
- Nystagmus is the test that evaluates involuntary jerking of the eye, which can be an indication of intoxication. Conversely, the occurrence of nystagmus is not dependent upon the presence of an intoxicant in the body as substances that do not interfere with driving ability can produce nystagmus, and nystagmus may be caused by structural neurological disease. As an example, the nystagmus test indicates alcohol impairment because of the inability to keep the head still, noticeable swaying and the speaking of incriminating statements. Conditions that can interfere with a potential DUI suspect may be cause by having an artificial eye, having damaged or weak vision, eye irritants, and visual distractions such as blinking lights, rain, etc. Therefore, some person’s not under the influence of alcohol may exhibit nystagmus. A brain tumor, brain damage and a disease of the inner ear can also cause nystagmus.
- In Walk and Turn, the person stopped for a DUI assumes a heel-to-toe stance with the subject’s arms down at his or her side. The subject is to maintain this position until the officer tells them to begin walking. At that time, the subject is to take 9 heel-to-toe steps down a real or imaginary line, turn around and take 9 heel-to-toe steps back up the line. The turn is not a pivot, but instead is made by taking a series of small steps with one foot, keeping the front foot on the line. While walking, the subject is to keep their arms at their side, watch their feet at all times, and count steps out loud. Conditions that may interfere with a suspect’s performance of the walk and turn test include weather conditions; the suspect being over the age of sixty; the footwear of the suspect; and highway traffic.
- The One Leg Stand instructs the subject to stand on one leg, holding out the other foot approximately 6 inches off the ground, foot pointed forward so the raised foot is parallel to the ground. While standing in this position, the subject is asked to maintain the position while the police officer estimates thirty seconds or the officer might tell the person to count out loud. The subject is to keep their arms at their sides at all times and watch the raised foot. Conditions which may impede the person’s ability to perform the One Leg Stand includes a surface that isn’t dry or level; the suspect is over the age of sixty; the suspect is at least 50 lbs overweight or the person has certain disabilities or medical conditions.
There are other field sobriety tests that are used and include the finger to nose test, the finger count test, the hand pat test, the alphabet test, the reverse counting test and the coin pickup test. However, based on the inaccuracies of these tests, most DUI attorneys challenge the accuracy of the tests as well as the credibility of officers who request the tests. A DUI attorney will argue with these tests because they cannot determine if a drinking driver actually had a blood alcohol level of 0.10 grams or higher. Savvy attorneys know that a very high percentage of police officers conduct these tests improperly and even grade them improperly, therefore most attorneys give them zero reliability.