When most people think of a DUI arrest, they think of the roadside tests that officers administer after asking you to step out of your vehicle. Walking a line, tracking a pen with your eyes, standing on one foot, and touching your finger to your nose, these are all field sobriety tests that officers use to make DUI arrest decisions. There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. Additionally, there are several other non-standardized field sobriety tests that an officer may conduct.
These tests are purposefully difficult to successfully complete. Although an officer will tell you that these tests are not “pass/fail” tests, it is difficult for most people to complete these tests even in the best of circumstances. These tests require you to multitask while balancing, listening to instructions, or performing unconventional body movements. Not to mention, a person is often required to complete these tests on the side of the road with traffic whizzing by as an officer watches their every move. Most people are nervous during traffic stops. Being asked to exit your vehicle and perform tests on the side of the road only adds to that nervousness.
With all these considerations, it is easy to see how a person could perform poorly on these tests. Additionally, the police officer will not tell you how you are being assessed during the tests. We often hear people say that they “passed” the tests, only to find out in the police report that the officer indicated they performed poorly. How can someone believe they passed the tests when the officer says they failed them? Because the person does not know exactly what the officer is looking for when scrutinizing their performance on the tests. It’s difficult to pass a test when you don’t even know the grading criteria.
With the amount of weight police officers and prosecutors give to field sobriety tests, it is important to have an attorney that is well-versed in the administration of field sobriety tests and the underlying studies and data related to them. The Rosenstein Law Group has had great success in challenging field sobriety test results and BAC evidence. Contact us at 480-248-7666 or online for a free consultation and case evaluation.
This is a question that frequently comes up in DUI cases. Most experienced DUI attorneys agree that it is often in your best interests to politely refuse to complete the field sobriety tests. Why? Because it is very difficult to successfully complete these tests even in the best of circumstances. Further, the tests themselves are prone to producing inaccurate results. In some cases, officers may jump to the conclusion that you are impaired by drugs or alcohol based on your performance on the field sobriety tests, even though there may be other completely innocuous reasons for your less than perfect performance.
A police officer may tell you that you do not have a right to refuse the field sobriety tests (many will cite a 2005 Arizona Court of Appeals case, State ex rel. Verburg v. Jones, on the subject). However, an officer cannot physically force you to perform the tests. Further, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that you were driving under the influence prior to conducting the tests. With that being said, a prosecutor will likely attempt to use your refusal to submit to field sobriety tests as evidence of guilt a criminal trial. This may hold some weight with a judge or jury, but in many cases this assertion is easier to refute than a person’s allegedly poor performance on field sobriety tests. Without the field sobriety tests, it may also be possible to challenge whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you for DUI in the first place.
Police officers have a list of field sobriety tests that they may attempt to conduct if they believe a person is driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As mentioned above, a driver has little to gain by completing the field sobriety tests, as any evidence gathered during the tests will be used against them. Although field sobriety tests are not considered “pass/fail” tests, an officer is unlikely to send you on your way even if you perform relatively well on these tests. Rather than pointing out your successes on these tests, an officer will document every single instance that he believes is a mistake, regardless of how minuscule that mistake is. Even something as trivial as a slight sway of 1 inch will be documented and used against you.
To further demonstrate the bias of the field sobriety tests, we can look at the Walk and Turn test. During this test, the police officer is trained to look for 8 possible clues of impairment. Their training tells them they only need to see 2 out of the possible 8 clues to conclude that you may be impaired to drive—even if you aced the other 6 clues. That means that you can successfully complete 75% of the tasks required during the test and still be arrested for DUI.
The most common field sobriety tests include:
For each of these tests, there are a litany of issues that could affect their reliability. It is possible for a person to not perform well on these tests even without any alcohol or drugs in their system. A skilled DUI defense attorney will be able to challenge a police officer’s administration of the field sobriety tests, which may lead to suppression of evidence, reduced charges, dismissed charges or other favorable outcomes.