What You Need to Know About Field Sobriety Tests And Your Legal Options

Dec 22, 2023

It is well understood that law enforcement officials have been using roadside sobriety tests for years to determine if drivers are operating their vehicles under the influence of substances like drugs or alcohol. While these tests can be effective in identifying impaired drivers, they are not without their drawbacks. In fact, there have been numerous instances where individuals were falsely accused of driving under the influence based on the results of these tests. 

It’s critical to understand the factors that can impact the efficacy of these tests as well as your legal options if you are accused of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

Understanding Your Rights During A Field Sobriety Test

If you find yourself being pulled over and asked to undergo a roadside examination, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with your rights before making any hasty decisions. Prior to taking any sobriety tests, know that you have the right to:

  • refuse to take this test; however, refusal may result in consequences such as having your driver’s license temporarily suspended.
  • ask to take the test in a well-lit area for better visibility.
  • be given ample opportunity to practice and warm up before taking the field sobriety test.
  • be able to have an observer with you during the exam.

Even so, taking all of the above precautions does not guarantee that you will not be falsely accused of DUI charges. If you are arrested based on the results of a roadside examination, you must contact an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. 

The Consequences Of Refusing A Field Sobriety Test 

Different states have different rules about what the law says about refusing to take a field sobriety test. There are some states that allow people to refuse to take the test, but those who do might face extra punishments on top of their existing ones, like losing their driving privileges for a longer time. In other places, on the other hand, refusals are illegal, which can lead to automatic arrest.

As soon as authorities order the administration of any particular sobriety test, the best course of action is to seek an instant consultation with knowledgeable legal counsel in this field. It is very important to know your rights, and a lawyer can give you advice that is specific to your situation. If you agree to a sobriety test without fully understanding the possible outcomes, you could end up in a bad situation, like being arrested or facing formal charges for DUI offenses. This highlights the importance of fully understanding the implications before following the examination procedures.

Common Field Sobriety Exercises

Many individuals are familiar with the common “field sobriety tests” that law enforcement officers frequently administer during traffic stops. These assessments, such as reciting the alphabet or counting backwards, aim to provide officers with a clearer picture of a driver’s impairment. 

Let’s take a look at some of these common field sobriety exercises that you might be asked to perform if you are ever pulled over for DUI.

  1. The Walk-and-Turn Test 

This task entails walking in a straight line for nine steps using the heel-to-toe method and then turning around before returning along the same path. The test is designed to assess the coordination and balance of a driver. While it may appear straightforward, it can be quite challenging to perform for those who are impaired. Officers are trained to look for signs of impairment such as an early start, losing one’s balance, straying from the line, or failing to obey commands.

  1. The One-Leg Stand Test

This test requires participants to balance on one leg for a predetermined amount of time while an officer watches them for any signs of impairment, such as swaying, hopping, or putting their foot down too soon. This test is designed to test the driver’s coordination and balance.

  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test 

This test is designed specifically to evaluate eye movement as potential evidence of intoxication since specific kinds of involuntary eye motion called nystagmus could indicate such impairment. In this test, the officer will instruct you to track objects like pens or flashlights moving horizontally across your visual plane, utilizing only your eyesight. They will closely look for any signals, such as jerking motions or bouncing effects, displayed by your eyes throughout this exercise, which is intended to show impairment.

  1. The Finger-To-Nose Test

This exercise involves repeatedly touching the tip of your nose with your index fingers, followed by returning your hand to its original place beside you. Although it may seem like an easy exercise, it might be difficult to do if one’s mental abilities are impacted by alcohol or drugs. Officers will be on the lookout for signs of impairment, such as difficulty performing the exercise or difficulty following instructions.

  1. The Rhomberg Balance Test

This test is administered by having an individual stand in a feet-together stance and arms positioned alongside the body while estimating the passage of 30 seconds. Indications of impairment include swaying gestures, loss of equilibrium, or an inability to accurately estimate time duration.

It is critical to remember that if ever asked to perform any of these exercises during a traffic stop encounter – exercising your right not-to-participate remains within your prerogative. However, do note that refusal could potentially lead law enforcement officers to arrest you and obtain legal authorization warranting invasive blood or urine tests.

How To Challenge The Results Of A Sobriety Test

If you are ever arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), it is highly likely that you will be required to undergo a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). While most states allow individuals to refuse this test, doing so, similar to a field sobriety test refusal, comes with automatic penalties such as having your driver’s license suspended. On the other hand, if you consent and fail the test, there are still avenues available for challenging its results.

There are a number of approaches you can take when contesting sobriety tests; however, it is crucial to bear in mind that time plays a significant role. The sooner you initiate proceedings against the accuracy of the test results, the stronger your case becomes. As days pass by before taking action, proving any inaccuracies in these tests tends to become increasingly difficult.

  • Breathalyzer tests, commonly used to measure blood alcohol content, can be influenced by factors such as device calibration, residual mouth alcohol, and medical conditions.
  • Field sobriety tests by law enforcement officers are subject to subjectivity and external factors, potentially leading to tainted or inaccurate results if proper procedures are not followed.
  • Reliability issues arise due to differences in protocols across jurisdictions for chemical sobriety tests, raising doubts about consistency in administering and interpreting assessments.
  • False positives and negatives are another challenge, with factors like specific medications, medical conditions, dietary habits, and mishandling of samples contributing to erroneous results.
  • Legal implications complicate matters surrounding DUI cases, as challenging the legality of a stop or arrest often involves scrutinizing how chemical sobriety tests were administered. 

If You Find Yourself In Need, Call Michael Reid! 

Although there is a presumption of innocence and the prosecution has the burden of proof in criminal cases, it is critical to take into account the crucial role that evidence plays in determining the outcome of a DUI case. In the eyes of the law, police officers tend to have greater credibility when compared to defendants facing criminal charges. 

Thus, it’s imperative for an individual charged with a DUI offense, with the odds seemingly stacked against them, to seek assistance from a reputable attorney who can carefully evaluate the evidence and help construct a formidable defense strategy. Criminal defense lawyers possess extensive experience handling DUI cases and possess both the knowledge and skills required for presenting compelling defenses on their clients’ behalf. 

In the face of DUI charges and subsequent serious penalties, it would be very helpful to hire a lawyer who is experienced in defending DUI cases. If you need a qualified DUI defense attorney, call Michael Reid Legal Solutions to see how we can help defend you!