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What to Expect During a Field Sobriety Test

Posted on in DUI

California DUI defense lawyerWhile there are a few exceptions to the rule, officers cannot typically stop a driver unless they have reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing (that includes traffic violations). However, once a driver has been stopped, the officer may then search for any additional signs of a potential crime. More specifically, they look for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or balance issues. If flagged for any one of the alleged “tell-tale signs” of intoxication, the driver may then be subjected to a field sobriety test. Learn more about them, and how you can fight a DUI charge, with help from the following information. (Note: you are not required to engage in field sobriety testing.)

“Standardized” Field Sobriety Tests

Before the late 1970s, law enforcement lacked a consistent method to detect intoxication among drivers. Instead, they were forced to rely on their own judgment and a variety of tests with unknown accuracy rates. Then, in 1977, the NHTSA initiated a study of the various FSTs being used. Their hope was that a reliable and “scientific” method would emerge. Enter today’s version of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test – a battery of tests that officers routinely use to determine if a driver is intoxicated. These include the:

  • One Leg Stand – The driver stands with their heels together, arms at their sides, and then raises one leg about six inches off the ground. They are to hold this stance, without swaying, using their arms for balance, or setting their foot down;
  • Walk-and-Turn – The driver walks nine steps, heel-to-heel and in a straight line then pivots and then walks another nine steps in the same fashion, but in the opposite direction. They cannot sway, stop, stumble, use their arms for balance, walk in anything except a straight line, or miscount their steps.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) – The driver must follow the movement of a small object or light without jerking their eyes (nystagmus) when the object moves at an angle of 45 degrees or less.

Are FSTs Faulty Science?

Although FSTs have been accepted as science by some, others criticize the testing methodologies and consider them – at best – only halfway accurate. News sources have also done impromptu tests and asked sober individuals to complete them; many failed. Why, then, are the tests being used to determine sobriety for drivers across the country? Because, to date, the authorities have nothing better. The reality is that “standardized” field sobriety tests in practice are subject to such non-standardized issues as improper testing area (inclines, debris, cracks, etc.), improper instructions, improper evaluation, and simple human characteristics such as anxiety, age, and just plain poor coordination. Drivers have the right to combat a DUI charge based upon FST results.

Contact Our Santa Cruz DUI Defense Lawyer

If you or someone you love is facing DUI charges, contact John W. Thornton, Attorney at Law, for assistance. Committed to protecting your rights, our seasoned Santa Cruz DUI defense lawyer will aggressively pursue the most favorable outcome possible in your case. Get the legal representation you deserve. Call 831-426-5800 and schedule your free consultation today.


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