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Field Sobriety Testing

When a Police Officer pulls a driver over and has a suspicion that the driver may be intoxicated, there are three field sobriety tests that can be administered. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), establishes the guidelines for the three Field Sobriety Tests.

You may refuse to perform any field sobriety testing, however, that does not mean that the officer cannot arrest you. What it does mean, is that their will be a lot less evidence that can be used against you at a trial, and that can greatly increase your chance of winning at a trial.

Even if you fail the field sobriety tests, it does not mean you were intoxicated. Individuals performing field sobriety tests can fail for various reasons other than being drunk. They may have an injury that prevents them from being physically capable to perform the tests. Bad weather, such as being cold without warm clothes on could potentially cause a person to fail the tests.

The 3 Types of Field Sobriety Tests

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) is a type of involuntary bouncing or jerking of the eye that occurs. HGN becomes more prevalent when an individual is impaired by alcohol. Alcohol acts as a depressant on the nervous system, and this has an effect on the eye movements particularly in a sideways manner. Those exhibiting exaggerated eye bouncing and jerking don’t know realize it’s happening. This is part one of the three-part standardized field sobriety test, and has been shown to be accurate 83% of the time. The HGN is the most accurate of the three field sobriety tests.

Walk and Turn 

The Walk and Turn tests the ability of the test taker to follow instructions and walk in a straight line. The test is broken up into two separate parts, instruction and performance. During Instruction, the Police Officer will demonstrate how the test is to performed. During the performance, the test taker will take nine heel-to-toe steps forward on a line, real or imaginary, pivot, and take nine steps back. During Performance, the Officer will look for clues as to intoxication. These include stepping off the line, failing to walk heel to toe, balancing with your arms, wrong number of steps, or not turning correctly. This test only has an accuracy rate of 66%.

One-Leg Stand

The last test is the One-Leg Stand. Essentially, you just stand on one for 30 seconds and count out loud. Swaying back and forth, putting your foot down, hopping, or using arms to balance are all clues that Police Officers look for when determining intoxication. This test must be performed on a hard, dry, level service. Research shows this test to be 65% accurate.

Defending Field Sobriety Tests

An experienced DUI lawyer can attack the field sobriety tests for a variety of reasons. For example, attacking how the tests were administered. Field Sobriety Tests are to be administered in accordance with the NHTSA standards, if they are not, then they are not considered to be reliable. In regards to the HGN test, there are at least 25 different steps that need to be taken to properly conduct the test.

Another example of defense regarding field sobriety testing is on the basis of medical conditions. A variety of medical ailments can affect the reliability of the tests. Such as neurological issues, nerve damage, low blood pressure, and certain eye diseases.

This is just a small sample of potential defenses. There are countless more defenses, and a good DUI attorney will be able to evaluate your specific facts.

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