Why You Should Never Take a Field Sobriety Test


If you are pulled over by the police, and they suspect you are under the influence of alcohol, the officer may ask you to perform what is commonly known as a field sobriety test. Most people agree to do what the officer asks, either because they do not believe they are legally drunk or because they do not know that they can refuse the officer's request.

But as any experienced DUI lawyer knows, you should never agree to a field sobriety test; not only are they unreliable and unscientific, but the tests are designed to make even sober people appear drunk. The majority of law enforcement agencies use the three standardized field sobriety tests: The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk and Turn Test, and the One Leg Stand Test. The accuracy of these tests are 77%, 68%, and 65% respectively. Furthermore, none of these tests meet the basic criteria for scientific validity.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, or HGN, is when the officer asks you to "follow" a moving object, usually a pen or a finger, with your eyes. The officer is trained to look for Nystagmus, which is the medical term for the jumping of your eye. Nystagmus is caused by alcohol consumption, but there are also more than 40 other potential causes of Nystagmus. This means that you could be stone cold sober and still fail a HGN test.The test is highly subjective and should never be relied upon as the sole evidence of intoxication.

The next two tests are what is known as a divided attention exercise. This means that in order to pass, you must listen to the instructions and then perform multiple tasks at the same time. If you ask to have the instructions repeated, then the officer can use your supposed lack of comprehension as evidence of intoxication.

The first of the two divided attention tests is the Walk and Turn Test, which requires you to listen to a complex series of instructions, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn in a very specific manner, and then repeat. The entire time, you are supposed to keep your hands down by your side. That doesn’t sound very hard, but you will not be told that if you move your hands more than 6 inches from your side, it will be counted as a sign of intoxication. I encourage you to take a moment, pull out a tape measure, and measure 6 inches from your side. All of a sudden, this test doesn’t seem so fair.

The third standard field sobriety test is the One Leg Stand. The police officer will ask you to do something like this: Raise one foot at approximately 6 inches off of the ground and count until you are told to stop. If you have to put your foot down, just pick it back up and keep counting where you left off. If you didn’t know any better, it sure sounds like its o to put your foot down and that counting is the important part. However, you aren’t graded at all on your counting. It isn’t even a factor, but putting your foot down sure is. Oh, and if you move your arms more than 6 inches, you might fail this one too.

Go ahead and try this test with a friend; even in a stress-free environment, it's still not easy. Now imagine going through the same process on the side of the road with police sirens blaring, drivers of passing cars staring at you, and a uniformed police officer spitting out instructions at a rapid-fire pace. Sometimes the instructions are so convoluted, the officer even gets tripped up, but you'll be the one to pay the price.

Aside from the tests themselves being flawed, there are also considerable flaws in their implementation. Although proper procedures are outlines in police training manuals, many officers learn from their colleagues instead. The application of the test becomes varied as improper techniques are passed down from one to officer to another; therefore, the lack of scientific methodology severely compromises the result of the test.

There are also external factors at play, such as weather, road conditions, the age of the driver, nervous conditions or other medical issues, poor coordination, and physical handicaps which make field sobriety tests highly unreliable.

If you are pulled over for suspected driving under the influence, It is critical to remember that field sobriety tests are not mandatory, and you have the legal right to refuse to perform them. You may well still be arrested for DUI, but if you take the tests and fail, you will absolutely go to jail and have these unscientific tests used against you as “evidence” of guilt.

Hopefully all of this information will never be needed. However, if you end up charged with DUI, give me a call at 866-816-7610 and I would love to help you out.

Hopefully all of this information will never be needed. However, if you end up charged with DUI, give me a call at 866-816-7610 and I would love to help you out.

Special Note: Any advice only applies to SC, and independent legal advice should be sought outside of SC.

Written by Rob Ianuario

Although I was not born into the legal profession, I chose to go to law school and became an attorney in 2008. With the encouragement of many established attorneys, I started my Greenville, SC law practice in 2010. I am the son of an engineer with strong ties to the automotive industry and collector cars. I have even worked as a BMW mechanic in Munich, Germany. Weather and court permitting, I am proud to drive a 1931 Model A Ford on a regular basis.
Rob’s Blog

A Resource for Past & Potential Clients

This is where you can learn about all of the areas my practice covers as well as some things that have nothing to do with law! Sign up today...I promise I won't flood you with emails but I may help you in some way, which is the whole point of this!

No Comments

Post A Comment