What you should know about Field Sobriety Tests…

What you should know about Field Sobriety Tests

Driving Under the Influence/ Driving While Intoxicated- The Road Side Exercises, A.K.A Field Sobriety Exercises

Generally speaking what are Field Sobriety Tests?

They are not really tests but rather agility exercises that are highly subjective.  In my opinion, these so-called tests are designed for failure.  These tests/exercises were created to simulate and evaluate your “divided attention” abilities, skills that are necessary in driving an automobile.  Unfortunately, there are many people who cannot perform these exercises, for many reasons not related to alcohol or chemical impairment, to the satisfaction of a police officer and are placed under arrest for DUI.

Do I have to submit to Field Sobriety Exercises?

No! Absolutely not!  These exercises are voluntary! Unfortunately, when a policeman requests that you do the exercises he will nearly always fail to inform you that they are voluntary. The police use these tests as evidence, however subjective, to substantiate your arrest.  These exercises will be used against you in both a Court of Law and at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Remember your rights! You may politely refuse to perform the exercises. When you refuse the police will likely state, “Sir/Madam if you fail to perform said exercises I will have to arrest you based on my current observations of you.”  You’re likely to be arrested anyway, so not making a fool of yourself on video or in the officer’s arrest report will likely be beneficial to your case.  It is very difficult for the State to prosecute you criminally without evidence.  Remember, performing the exercises and submitting to a breathalyzer is the evidence the state uses against you in court.  Note:  Refusing the breath test can have administrative consequences: usually a suspension of your driving privileges but that can be challenged too!

What is the difference between Field Sobriety Tests and Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?

When you are confronted by police to submit to these tests, you should understand that these tests are highly subjective and only three (3) of these tests have been accepted in the “scientific community.”  Police often give additional tests but these tests are less reliable than the already subjective and unreliable “standardized” or “accepted” tests given to detect alcohol or chemical impairment.

What are the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests/Exercises?

First is the Nystagmus test (Horizontal and Vertical Gaze): The police officer will position an object, usually a lighted pen, 12-15 inches away from the subject’s face, and move the object from side to side while monitoring the subject’s eyes.  The subject is told to follow the object with his/her eyes only and not to move their head, meanwhile, the police officer determines whether there is any involuntary jerking of the eyeball. Jerking or trembling may be a sign that the subject is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The jerking or involuntary movement of the eyes while tracking the pen is also indicative of medical and physiological disorders other than alcohol and or chemical impairment.

Second, is the Walk and Turn Test: The subject is required to take nine (9) heel-to-toe steps while balancing on a marked or imaginary line, turning in a particular manner, and returning to the starting position by taking (9) nine heel-to-toe steps back along the same line.  While performing this exercise the police officer determines whether:

A)    The subject is following instructions,

B)    The subject balances themselves without raising their arms more than six inches from their side,

C)    Whether the subject stops during the test,

D)    Whether the subject touches heel-to-toe on each of the steps,

E)    Whether the subject steps off the line at any point,

F)    Whether the subject loses balance while turning.

Remember, whether the subject passes or fails depends only on the opinion of the officer, therefore, two different officers administering the same test to the same individual can have differing results.  Are you willing to rely on an officer’s subjective opinion as to whether you’re impaired?

The Third and final test is the One Leg Stand: The subject is instructed to stand with their feet together, arms down at their side, and then told to raise either leg, left or right, (their choice) six inches off the ground while counting out loud until the police officer tells them to stop. In this test, the police officer determines whether:

A)    the subject  raised their arms too much for balance(more than 6 inches),
B)    the subject had a sway,
C)    the subject hoped to gather their balance,
D)    the subject put their foot down
E)    the subject counted properly

Again, whether the subject passes or fails the test is determined solely by the officer administering the test.

What are the other Field Sobriety Tests/Exercises?

Rhomberg Balance Test: The subject is instructed to stand still with his/her hands at their side, feet together, close their eyes, tilt his/her head back, and estimates the passage of 30 seconds. The police officer in this test is attempting to determine whether:

A)    the subject follows directions,

B)    the subject’s body is swaying,

C)    the subject has problems balancing,

D)    the subject’s  body or eyelids tremor,

E)    the subject opens his/hers eyes,

F)    there is any evidence of  muscle tension, or

G)    any other so-called “clues” to support the officer’s subjective belief that the person is impaired.

Finger to Nose: The subject is instructed to stand with their feet together and eyes closed while holding their arms horizontally to their side and alternately bringing their index finger to the tip of their nose.  The police officer indicates “left” or “right” while the subject alternates hands accordingly. In this test, the police officer is looking to see if:

A)    the subject follows directions,

B)    the subject sways,

C)    the subject has body or eyelid tremors,

D)    muscle tension, or

E)    any other “clues” to support a finding of alcohol or chemical impairment.


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