Common Field Sobriety Tests in North Carolina

DUIs are serious offenses in North Carolina. Unfortunately, this is also the position in other American states. If the courts convict you, you’ll face stiff penalties. These include imprisonment and fines. Fortunately, a DUI defense lawyer in Asheville, NC, can help you. The police make DUI arrests based on many factors.

One such element is a driver’s performance in field sobriety tests. However, these tests aren’t perfect. The police can manipulate them to effect an arrest. So, an excellent attorney can throw out or reduce your charges by attacking the field sobriety test. First, however, what sobriety tests do the North Carolina police use?

What Is a Field Sobriety Test?

A field sobriety test (FST) is used to determine whether a person is driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Usually, the police conduct this examination after stopping a driver they suspect is tipsy. However, they cannot arrest such drivers on mere suspicion.

Instead, the police often have to show “probable cause for arrest.” FSTs judge the driver’s:

  • Balance,
  • Coordination, and
  • Ability to divide attention between multiple tasks.

Notably, North Carolina courts admit the results of these tests into evidence. However, failing a test isn’t conclusive proof of intoxication. People fail FSTs for various reasons. So, the police still have to administer a breath or chemical test after such failure.

Furthermore, they’ll need to determine your blood alcohol content. Therefore, FSTs merely give officers the right to arrest you. After that, the police and prosecution will still have to conduct further investigations.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests Used in Asheville, NC

American police officers administer several types of field sobriety tests. These include standardized and non-standardized tests. Below, we explain the tests the NC police use on drunk drivers.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The horizontal gaze nystagmus is currently the most reliable field sobriety test. It involves following the eye’s focus on an object. Here, the police will be watching for sudden eye movements (jerks).

A sober person’s eyes move smoothly as they look sideways. However, intoxication exaggerates these eye jerks. In addition, they also now occur at lesser angles.

Not only alcohol induces these jerks. Instead, some drugs have similar effects, including:

  • Depressants
  • Inhalants
  • Dissociative anesthetics

A typical administration of the horizontal gaze nystagmus will involve the police asking you to:

  • Stand with your feet together,
  • Keep your hands at your sides, and
  • Follow an object with your eyes.

This object could be a pen, torchlight, or the officer’s finger. Notably, the horizontal gaze nystagmus is highly reliable. However, officers sometimes administer it improperly. Such an officer may also wrongly interpret the test. Therefore, lawyers often dispute the result.

Walk and Turn Test

The walk-and-turn test measures the body’s overall balance. With this test, the officer wants to know the suspect’s ability to:

  • Maintain their balance,
  • Walk in a straight line, and
  • Follow instructions.

So, the police usually ask suspects to:

  • Take nine heel-to-toe steps in a prescribed manner,
  • Take nine heel-to-toe steps back,
  • Loudly count the steps, and
  • Watch their feet.

While turning back, the driver must keep their feet on a line. Generally, the police will be looking out for whether the motorist:

  • Starts walking before receiving the full instructions
  • Loses their balance while walking or turning
  • Stops while walking to regain balance
  • Uses their arms for balance
  • Takes an incorrect number of steps
  • Steps out of line
  • Doesn’t touch their heel-to-toe

The police only need two of the above to suspect intoxication.

Shortcomings of the Walk and Turn Test

Officers often give wrong instructions to the drivers they pull over. Consequently, the walk and turn test result ends up being wrong. Several other factors can affect the result of this test too. Some of them include the age and weight of the suspect. Cold weather can even make a person shiver, thus failing the tests.

The One-Leg Stand Test

Finally, the North Carolina police also administer the one-leg stand. This test also has an instruction and evaluation phase. So, the suspect must:

  • Stand with their feet together
  • Keep their arms by their sides
  • Maintain their position until instructed otherwise
  • Listen to instructions

After this, the suspect must raise either foot six inches off the ground. Furthermore, the police will instruct the driver to count out loud. The police look for four crucial elements. They are whether the driver:

  • Hops to maintain balance
  • Puts their foot down
  • Sways while balancing
  • Uses their arms for balance

Suppose you show two or more of these indicators. Then, the police will have justification for arresting you.

Can a DUI Defense Attorney Challenge Field Sobriety Tests?

Yes, an excellent defense lawyer can challenge the result of FSTs. If they succeed, they’ll have the evidence thrown out at trial. There are several grounds for such a step. Some of them include that:

  • The defendant failed the test for another reason.
  • The tests were non-standard and thus unreliable. There are many other non-standardized tests, and their accuracy is currently subject to much debate. So, an attorney can exclude the results of a test that’s not widely accepted.
  • The police officer incorrectly administered the test. For example, suppose an officer didn’t receive proper training before administering the test. Then, they may have made an error at the scene.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory in North Carolina?

You don’t have to take a field sobriety test in North Carolina. So, you can legally refuse to obey a police officer ordering such examinations. There are also no legal consequences for such refusal.

However, a breath test is a different issue. The police can request this test when you get to the station. If they do, it’ll be best to comply. Refusing to take the examination may result in a one-year license suspension.

Breath analysis is also more reliable than field sobriety tests. Therefore, suppose you think you’ll fail a field sobriety test. Then, it’ll be best to reject the test and opt for a breathalyzer.

Beat Your DUI Charge With the Best Asheville DUI Attorneys!

Have the police arrested you on a DUI charge? Did they administer a field sobriety test? Then, it’ll be best to hire a legal team. An arrest following an FST means that the police think they have a good case. However, you can still beat a DUI charge with our lawyers.

We have several decades of experience handling DUI cases, and we’ve won several of them for our clients. As a result, we can guarantee that we’ll get the best results for your case. So, call us today for a FREE consultation with a criminal defense lawyer in Asheville, NC.

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