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Field Sobriety Tests

Field Sobriety Tests

When law enforcement suspects that you have been drinking and driving, they will pull you over to further inspect if you exhibit signs of intoxication through field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are vital in the latter part of a DUI charge: the evidence of impairment of the driver.

If you have been pulled over and asked to take a field sobriety test, the findings may have pointed to you being intoxicated. It, however, is important to note that these exams are not always accurate. Our firm can investigate to ensure they were properly carried out by an arresting officer.

The most common field sobriety tests are:

If you have been arrested, our Los Angeles DUI attorneys can use field sobriety tests as a defense for your case and help you avoid maximum penalties for your charges.

Advantages of Choosing Gold & Witham

Gold & Witham is comprised of capable professionals who look to give those accused of drinking and driving aggressive defense. During our time in legal practice, we have continued to develop not only our skill, but our understanding of the legal system. We have seen many suspects not given a fair chance and convicted of a crime they did not commit or given higher penalties than the crime deserves. Our DUI attorneys argue on behalf of those accused of drunk driving.

Accuracy of Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are not entirely accurate. In fact, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted an evaluation of the three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), the results showed that the most effective test was only 77% accurate.

These tests are not accurate because several factors can skew the results:

  • Nervousness and Anxiety: Being stopped by police can be a highly stressful experience. Nervousness can lead to shaky hands, an unsteady walk, or difficulty following instructions, which can be misinterpreted as signs of impairment.
  • Physical Conditions: Various physical conditions and disabilities can affect performance on FSTs. Issues such as balance disorders, inner ear problems, leg injuries, or chronic pain can hinder a person’s ability to perform the tests as expected.
  • Age: Older individuals may have a harder time with balance and coordination, even when sober, making it more likely for them to fail tests like the walk-and-turn or the one-leg stand.
  • Weight: Overweight or obese individuals often have more difficulty with balance and coordination tasks, which can negatively impact their performance on FSTs.
  • Fatigue: Being overly tired can impair motor skills and cognitive function, leading to poor performance on the tests. Fatigue can make a person appear drowsy, unfocused, and less coordinated.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as neurological disorders, diabetes (which can cause hypoglycemia), and eye problems, can affect the results of FSTs. For instance, nystagmus, an involuntary jerking of the eyes, can occur in individuals without alcohol consumption.
  • Medications: Prescription medications, especially those that cause drowsiness or dizziness as side effects, can impact a person’s ability to perform FSTs. Even over-the-counter medications can sometimes cause these effects.
  • Environmental Factors: Conditions such as uneven or slippery surfaces, poor lighting, or extreme weather can affect the performance of FSTs. The environment in which the tests are conducted plays a crucial role in a person's ability to perform them accurately.
  • Footwear: The type of shoes a person is wearing can influence their performance. High heels, sandals, or any shoes without proper support can make it challenging to perform balance and coordination tasks.
  • Instructions and Language Barriers: Misunderstanding the officer’s instructions, whether due to language barriers or unclear communication, can lead to incorrect performance of the tests. Individuals who are not proficient in the language used by the officer may have difficulty following complex instructions.

Refusing a Field Sobriety Test

When an officer believes you have been drinking and driving, they may ask you to submit to field sobriety tests. What law enforcement doesn't want you to know is that performing a field sobriety test is completely voluntary, meaning there are no penalties for refusing to perform a field sobriety test (not true with blood or breath tests).

Police officers may try to convince you to perform a field sobriety test by saying:

  • If you're not drunk you have nothing to worry about
  • If you pass the test then I won't arrest you
  • If you refuse I'm going to arrest you anyways

Law enforcement officers use field sobriety tests as a reason to arrest you, so by refusing to perform a test you give them one less piece of evidence to use against you later on. However, you may still be arrested for suspected DUI based on other pieces of evidence (i.e., other observations to make an arrest decision, such as erratic driving, the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, or visible impairment).

Can My Refusal Be Used Against Me Later On?

In some cases, the prosecution may attempt to use your refusal as evidence that you were impaired at the time, otherwise, you would have complied with the arresting officer. However, this type of argument is based on a lack of evidence, not evidence. The DUI defense attorneys at Gold & Witham have decades of experiencing challenging field sobriety tests in court!

Challenging a Field Sobriety Test in Court

Field sobriety tests are based on the observation of a law enforcement officer and not a chemical analysis, making them more prone to error than a chemical test; therefore, they can often be easily challenged. When evidence is based on observation by an individual, it becomes a gray area. At our firm, we can use the results of your field sobriety tests to prove that you were not impaired or that any impairment shown was actually the result of another factor.

If you have been administered field sobriety tests and then arrested for DUI, it is strongly advised that you contact Gold & Witham without delay so a free initial case evaluation can be done. After this evaluation, your questions will be answered and you will know how to move forward to protect yourself in the courts. Law enforcement and the courts are harsh on drunk driving and will be fighting to convict you.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

If you've been pulled over for drunk driving, the officer may ask to look into your eyes as they use a pen, flashlight, or other tool that they will hold 12 to 15 inches away and tell you to follow with your eyes. This is called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

Also known as the HGN test, they will be looking for three clues in both eyes when they conduct this test:

  • Smoothness in following the object
  • Onset of nystagmus before reaching 45 degrees
  • Clear nystagmus at maximum deviation

Nystagmus is involuntary eye movement acquired through various means, including intoxication. There are two types of nystagmus caused by alcohol, but officers will only test for alcohol gaze nystagmus. In this type, the eye will begin to lag when following an object and will jerk in an attempt to catch back up to it.

One-Leg Stand Test

The one-leg stand test requires a suspect to stand on one leg and balance while their foot hangs approximately six inches above the ground. The subject is then required to count out loud by thousands until the officer tells them that they can stop.

When police officers are conducting this test, they will look to see if the suspect sways, has to hop to stay balancing, uses their arms for balance, or puts their foot down before the count is finished. Those found to do two of these four signs are generally considered to be under the influence.

Walk-and-Turn Test

While it sounds simple, there are many things an officer is assessing during the walk-and-turn test. The suspect will be required to walk along a line with one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. After taking nine steps, they must turn on one foot and come back in the same manner.

The officer will be evaluating several factors, such as:

  • The overall balance of the subject
  • If the subject listened to instructions
  • If the subject touched heel to toe
  • If the subject needed their arms for balance
  • If the subject started before instructions were finished
  • If the subject needed to stop
  • If the subject turned incorrectly
  • If the subject took the wrong number of steps

Don't take chances with your future! If you submitted to field sobriety testing you will need to consult a DUI lawyer at Gold & Witham immediately. Let us help protect your future!

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