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Type of Field Sobriety Test in DUI Cases

Posted in Criminal Defense,Drunk Driving,DUI on May 30, 2019

A field sobriety test is a tool law enforcement officers may use to try to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It involves a series of physical and/or mental exercises police officers may ask the driver to complete. Low performance during the field sobriety test allegedly serves as proof of driving under the influence (DUI). While law enforcement used to rely on field sobriety tests a great deal during DUI cases, today the courts do not place as much faith in them due to lack of reliability.

How an Officer Determines Driver Sobriety

The five types of DUI evidence are how the person drives, personal symptoms, incriminating statements from the driver, chemical evidence, and field sobriety tests. Personal systems can include red eyes and slurred speech, while chemical evidence can come from blood or urine analyses. It is an officer’s responsibility to search for evidence of DUI upon conducting a traffic stop for some type of infraction. If the officer sees anything that gives him or her probable cause to suspect DUI, the officer may then ask the driver to perform a field sobriety test.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

Over a dozen types of field sobriety tests exist today. The goal of these tests is to gauge a driver’s coordination, balance, ability to follow directions, and multitasking capabilities. Police officers have used different testing methods to varying degrees throughout history. Some types of tests are more commonly administered than others.

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus: One of the more accurate field sobriety tests is the horizontal gaze nystagmus. During this test, the officer asks the driver to follow a pen with the driver’s eyes.
  • Walk-and-turn: The walk-and-turn tests balance and coordination as the driver walks one direction, then turns and walks back.
  • One-leg stand: This test is primarily for balance. It is one of the least accurate types of sobriety tests, as many different things could make a driver unable to stand on one leg.
  • Rhomberg test: The Rhomberg test, or modified position of attention, looks at whether a driver can stand with the feet together and eyes closed for 30 seconds. The officer will assess whether you are swaying, experiencing eyelid or body tremors, whether you can follow directions, and your perception of how much time has passed.

Other types of field sobriety tests include the hand pat, finger-to-nose, finger-to-thumb, and reciting the alphabet (or reciting it backward). Most field sobriety tests ask the driver to do multiple things at once, to test divided attention, or the ability to multitask. This can make these tests difficult to complete even if the driver is sober.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate?

Many field sobriety tests for DUI are not standardized. No formal guidelines exist on how to administer, judge, or score the tests. This makes them highly subjective to the police officer attending the test. The subjective, inaccurate, and unreliable nature of field sobriety tests has caused them to lessen significantly in importance and use over the last decade. Today, officers use chemical tests and breathalyzers to come to more accurate conclusions. If an officer does put you through a field sobriety test, it is possible to refute test results and convince the courts to render related evidence inadmissible.

Taking a field sobriety test is entirely optional for drivers in California. All drivers have the right to politely decline these tests, without any penalties or repercussions. The reason drivers have this right is because many different conditions (unrelated to intoxication) could lead to poor results on the test. A knee injury, for example, could cause someone to sway during a Rhomberg test. With a lawyer’s help, you may be able to challenge field sobriety test results during a DUI case.