What are Field Sobriety Tests?

Categories: General

When an officer suspects a driver of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, one of the first thing that the officer will do is ask the driver to perform a series of tests designed to evaluate the person’s coordination and motor skills. These tests are referred to as “standardized field sobriety tests.”

These tests were originally designed in the 1970s by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to help officers have a somewhat objective standard to determine whether a person might be intoxicated. The theories behind the tests have been reexamined a couple of times over the years, but they’ve largely remained unchanged.

There are three standardized field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the 9-step walk and turn, and the one leg stand. Each has a series of different “clues” that the officer looks for to help determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a person might be intoxicated.

There are two extremely important things to remember about these tests. First, “passing” or “failing” them is subjective with the officer. The tests are referred to as “standardized”, which means that they’re supposed to be performed in the exact same manner each and every time, but there are often variations in how the officer interprets a person’s performance that can be used by a good attorney to argue that the officer is incorrect in his beliefs or observations.

Second, the tests themselves aren’t designed to prove INTOXICATION, but only to provide probable cause that a person consumed alcohol. “Intoxicated” means being under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, some other drug, or a combination of drugs and alcohol so that there is an impaired condition of thought and action and the loss of normal control of a person’s faculties. This is a specific legal term that the State needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and “failing” the standardized field sobriety tests does nothing to prove this definition by any standard of doubt.

In addition to your performance on the field sobriety tests, there may be other issues involved in a DUI case that can be examined to build a proper defense for you. Make sure that the attorney you hire to represent you on your DUI case is both experienced and knowledgeable enough to fully answer your questions about every aspect of DUI law.

At Razumich & Delamater, our goal is to make sure that each of our clients receives the personalized attention that their cases deserve so that they can make the best possible decisions on important matters affecting their future. We personally meet with everyone who sets an appointment with our office, and we will take as long as necessary to make sure that every question you have is answered as completely as possible. That’s our promise to you: we’re Lawyers Ready to Fight, and we look forward to fighting for you.