DUI: Field Sobriety Tests

A driver suspected of DUI will almost always be requested to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). While it is not uncommon for an officer to request a driver to perform any number of tasks, such as touching the tip on one’s nose with the index finger or going through the alphabet backward

A driver suspected of DUI will almost always be requested to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). While it is not uncommon for an officer to request a driver to perform any number of tasks, such as touching the tip on one’s nose with the index finger or going through the alphabet backwards from T to H, there are only three “Standardized” Field Sobriety Tests: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous field sobriety test, the Walk and Turn filed sobriety test and the One-Leg Stand field sobriety test.

HORIZONTAL GAZE NYSTAGMOUS (HGN)

Nystagmus references involuntary jerking of the eyes. In this field sobriety test, the officer holds a stimulus (it may be a pen, a light, or just the officer’s finger) 12 to 15 inches from the driver’s eyes and instructs the driver to follow the stimulus with his eyes. The officer then performs a routine to check for a number of “clues” that the driver is impaired. The problem with HGN, however, is that it depends on the officer adhering to a strict protocol in order for it to be even arguably accurate. Not every DUI is the same. Moreover, nystagmus in an individual can result from a wide variety of medical conditions.

WALK AND TURN

The driver is instructed to stand heel-to-toe and take nine heel-to-toe steps down a real or imaginary line. The driver is then to shuffle-turn and takes nine heel-to-toe steps back. As with the HGN test, the officer must adhere to a strict protocol to ensure even arguable accuracy. The officer is required to observe for “clues”, such as using arms for balance or not touching feet heel to toe while walking the line.

ONE-LEG STAND

The driver is instructed to stand on one leg while raising the other leg six inches from the ground. The driver must then keep his eyes on the raised leg and count aloud until ordered by the officer to stop. Again, the officer looks for “clues” of impairment, such as putting the raised foot on the ground or using the arms for balance.

THE DEFENSE

The problems with using the field sobriety test results as evidence of impairment are many. First, most often a driver’s first time ever attempting any of the field sobriety tests is the performance given following a traffic stop for DUI (under the stress and worry of a DUI investigation and on video). For this reason, many people have labeled the tests as “failure designed”. The officer may give a demonstration of the field sobriety tests and might make it look easy, which should not be difficult given that the officer has done the tests hundreds or thousands of times. Also, many officers do not record the type and number of “clues” observed, but rather make a subjective, generalized conclusion of a pass or fail. Not explaining, demonstrating, or grading the tests properly can render the results meaningless.

The defense attorney should always attack the admissibility of the field sobriety test results as evidence in a trial when the tests are other than the three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests discussed above, and when the tests are not explained, demonstrated or graded properly, the admissibility of the test results should be argued. At trial, the defense attorney should be fully prepared to expose the tests as failure designed, subjective, junk science.

s from T to H, there are only three “Standardized” Field Sobriety Tests: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous field sobriety test, the Walk and Turn field sobriety test and the One-Leg Stand field sobriety test.

HORIZONTAL GAZE NYSTAGMOUS (HGN)

Nystagmus references involuntary jerking of the eyes. In this field sobriety test, the officer holds a stimulus (it may be a pen, a light, or just the officer’s finger) 12 to 15 inches from the driver’s eyes and instructs the driver to follow the stimulus with his eyes. The officer then performs a routine to check for a number of “clues” that the driver is impaired. The problem with HGN, however, is that it depends on the officer adhering to a strict protocol in order for it to be even arguably accurate. Not every DUI is the same. Moreover, nystagmus in an individual can result from a wide variety of medical conditions.

WALK AND TURN

The driver is instructed to stand heel-to-toe and take nine heel-to-toe steps down a real or imaginary line. The driver is then to shuffle-turn and take nine heel-to-toe steps back. As with the HGN test, the officer must adhere to a strict protocol to ensure even arguable accuracy. The officer is required to observe for “clues”, such as using arms for balance or not touching feet heel to toe while walking the line.

ONE-LEG STAND

The driver is instructed to stand on one leg while raising the other leg six inches from the ground. The driver must then keep his eyes on the raised leg and count aloud until ordered by the officer to stop. Again, the officer looks for “clues” of impairment, such as putting the raised foot on the ground or using the arms for balance.

THE ISSUES

The problems with using the field sobriety test results as evidence of impairment are many. Most often a driver’s first time ever attempting any of the field sobriety tests is the performance given following a traffic stop for DUI (under the stress and worry of a DUI investigation and on video). For this reason, many people have labeled the tests as “failure designed”. The officer may give a demonstration of the field sobriety tests, and might make it look easy, which should not be difficult given that the officer has done the tests hundreds or thousands of times. Also, many officers do not record the type and number of “clues” observed, but rather make a subjective, generalized conclusion of pass or fail. Not explaining, demonstrating or grading the tests properly can render the results meaningless.

The defense attorney should always attack the admissibility of the field sobriety test results as evidence in a trial when the tests are made-up, improvised tests, and not one of the three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests discussed above, and when the tests are not explained, demonstrated or graded properly, the admissibility of the test results should be argued. At trial, the defense attorney should be fully prepared to expose the tests as failure designed, subjective, junk science. An individual serious about defending a charge of DUI or Felony DUI must seek out a talented, experienced, and effective Criminal Defense Attorney.

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