Field Sobriety Tests: How They Work and Their Problems

Many clients contact an Asheville DUI lawyer after failing field sobriety tests, saying in all earnestness that they had not drunk enough to exceed the legal BAC limit. Yet, they were charged with DWI (driving while impaired), which is just as serious as a DUI charge.

Given the frequency of this specific issue, it is important to understand what field sobriety tests are and what to do if you are asked to perform them.

The Most Common Field Sobriety Tests

Currently, police officers across the US tell drivers suspected of DUI to perform three types of tests.

1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is based on the premise that drunk drivers have jerking or stuttering movements, which can be observed in the eyes. Thus, police officers will hold an object 12 to 15 inches away from the driver’s eyes and tell them to follow the movement of the object from one side to the other.

2. The One-Leg Stand Test

This test involves being able to remain at a standstill while standing on one leg. The basic procedure is as follows:

  • Raising one leg approximately six inches off the ground, with the foot parallel to the other one
  • Opening the arms wide to the sides
  • Counting in thousands (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, etc.) while looking at the raised foot until instructed to stop.

It is important to note that even official instructions indicate that the one-leg stand test has a level of accuracy of only 65%.

3. The Walk and Turn Test

This test involves taking nine heel-to-toe steps in a perfectly straight line, making a pivoting turn, and taking nine other steps in the same manner. During the test, you have to keep both arms to your sides, watch your feet, and count the steps aloud.

Reasons Field Sobriety Tests Can Be Inaccurate

The question is, why would a person who did not drink alcohol at all, or very little, should fail any or all of these tests? An experienced Asheville DUI attorney knows that these tests can give false positive results for the following reasons.

Field Sobriety Tests

Not All Officers Are Properly Trained

To be relevant, these tests should be administered according to instructions developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, many police officers are not adequately trained to:

  • Give clear instructions
  • Observe the performance accurately
  • Make an informed evaluation of the person’s level of impairment.

This is one of the most common reasons for challenging failed field sobriety tests successfully.

Medical Conditions May Cause Drivers to Fail

Did you know that a simple ear infection could lead to failing a field sobriety test? The organs that give us a sense of balance (perceiving up, down, left, and right) are located inside the ears.

Moreover, the movement of the liquid inside the inner ear or an episode of vertigo can cause the jerking of the eye, which an officer may interpret as a sign of alcohol-related impairment.

Drivers Fail Because of Physical Limitations

The one-leg stand test is next to impossible to perform by drivers who are:

  • Elderly
  • Overweight
  • Suffering from back conditions, such as a herniated disc.

In other cases, female drivers wearing high-heeled shoes are not allowed to take them off before performing the tests. This may lead not only to failing field sobriety tests but also to suffering injuries (such as an ankle sprain).

The Good News: Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Mandatory

While you are legally obliged to take a breath test, there is no such obligation concerning these tests. You may get arrested and your license may be suspended, but you can fight these charges with the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Reach Out to a Skilled Asheville DUI Lawyer!

If you are pulled over and charged with driving while impaired, remember that you can refuse to take the field sobriety tests. If you are still charged, contact a skilled Asheville DUI lawyer who can build a strong defense.

Do not underestimate the negative consequences of a DWI charge. Call us today at 828-759-5556 and schedule a free case review!

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