What are field sobriety tests and do I have to take them?

You probably have heard of field sobriety tests, or possibly seen videos of people struggling through them. Some questions may quickly come to mind if a police officer pulls you over and asks you to take several field sobriety tests. Do I have a right to refuse to take the tests? What is the officer looking for if I do take the tests? Can the tests be used as evidence against me in a DUI case?

Types of field sobriety tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) worked to developed three field sobriety tests: Walk and Turn, One Leg Stand and HGN testing.

Walk and Turn

In this test, the subject is told to take several steps, heel-to-toe in a straight line. Then he or she must turn on one foot and return back following the same process. The examiner is looking for two or more signs of impairment including: if the subject doesn't listen to the instructions before beginning to walk, stops at any point to regain balance, veers off the line, does not touch heel-to-toe, needs arms to balance or does not turn as directed.

One Leg Stand

This requires the subject to raise one foot six inches off the ground while counting aloud until told to stop (it is supposed to be for thirty seconds). The examiner watches for two or more signs the subject is struggling to balance including hopping, swaying, using arms or placing the foot back down.

HGN Testing

HGN stands for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. This is an involuntary jerking of the eyes as they look to the side. It occurs naturally, but can be exaggerated if an individual is impaired by alcohol. The subject will be asked to follow an object (like a pen) with their eyes in a slow horizontal motion. The officer will be looking to see if the eye can follow the object smoothly. If the eyes do jerk, the officer will take particular note if it occurs at lesser angles of viewing.

Can I refuse to take them?

You may absolutely decline to take these tests and it is often wise to do so. As explained above, these tests are very subjective and not always reliable. There are no consequences for refusing to take them (note that this is different than blood and breath tests which may have consequences for refusal). If you do take the tests, they can be used by the police as evidence against you.

Consult with an attorney

If you do take the tests and do not do well, an attorney may be able to make a case for why the field sobriety test results were not reliable. This may be because of your age, weight, health conditions or because the tests were improperly administered.

Whether or not you take field sobriety tests, it is wise to contact an attorney if you are facing DUI charges. An attorney will discuss the options available to you, and investigate issues such as whether the officer had probable cause to stop you and whether the administration of breath or blood tests was proper.

Rob McKinney focuses a significant part of his practice on DUI defense. He has successfully defended numerous cases since 1994. Contact the firm today to arrange for your free consultation.