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What you need to know about field sobriety tests

After a long day at work, you may have stopped off to meet co-workers, family or friends for cocktail hour. Perhaps you only had a couple of drinks and feel as though you can safely drive home. Unfortunately, it wasn't your lucky day, and a police officer stopped you.

You may immediately begin to wonder whether those drinks you had will become an issue. It doesn't take long to realize that the officer wonders whether cocktail hour caused you to drive impaired. The officer asks you to participate in field sobriety tests as a precursor to determining whether you are. First, you should know that you are not required to take part in these tests, unlike the requirement to submit to a breath test.

The most often used field sobriety tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration facilitated the creation of a three-part Standardized Field Sobriety Test that many departments here in Kentucky and across the country routinely use. The SFST includes the following tests:

  • The NHTSA considers the walk-and-turn test to be the one that most easily accomplished by people who are not impaired. The test requires you to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn and repeat the steps in the opposite direction.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test gauges the "jerking" movements of your eyes. When sober, these movements are smoother than when impaired.
  • The one-leg stand test measures your ability to balance on one leg for 30 seconds while counting. If you need to use your arms to balance, drop your foot or hop, supposedly that indicates impairment.

As you can see, these tests are problematic. For example, any number of physical or medical issues can prevent you from being able to maintain your balance in the one-leg stand test. In addition, you could fail because the officer improperly administers the tests. 

Challenging the result of field sobriety tests

As you can see, these two reasons alone make challenging the results of a field sobriety test one of the first steps when combatting DUI charges. The fact that these tests require a significant amount of supposition on the part of the officer also increases the likelihood that they aren't accurate or reliable.

If you do participate in field sobriety tests and "fail" them, you don't have to simply accept those results. You have the right to challenge the test results and all of the other aspects surrounding your encounter with the police and your arrest. DUI charges can come with substantial legal, personal and professional consequences, and it is in your best interest to aggressively and quickly mount a defense.

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Shumate, Flaherty, Eubanks & Baechtold

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Richmond, KY 40475

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