What Are the Three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?
Many people have seen television programs or movies, whether fictional or reality, in which people take field sobriety tests. These shows and movies may have shown characters doing tests such as touching a finger to the tip of their nose, reciting the alphabet backwards, or other tests that are supposed to indicate whether the character is sober. While some law enforcement officers may use those tests, they are not standardized, which can leave their results open to challenge.
There are three standardized tests that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested and considers reliable enough to initially assess a driver for DUI, according to the United States Department of Justice. These three tests are:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): Looks at the driver’s eyes and how they dilate and move when responding to light and motion. Officer asks driver to follow a moving finger or pen with only their eyes. Twitching pupils could indicate impairment.
- Walk and Turn (WAT): Driver is asked to walk and turn toe to heel in a straight line without using their arms to balance. Losing balance, using arms, or being unable to walk toe to heel could indicate impairment.
- One-Leg Stand (OLS): Driver is asked to stand with one leg raised approximately six inches off the ground without using their arms to balance and while looking at their raised foot. Losing balance, using arms to balance, or an inability to lift their foot could indicate impairment.
What Are the Three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?
No field sobriety test is 100% accurate. They all rely on proper instruction, the driver’s ability to properly perform the test, and the officer’s perception of the driver’s performance. The HGN test is considered the most accurate of the three, with 77% accuracy. WAT is only 68% accurate and OLS is only 65% accurate.
All three tests taken together are only 82% accurate. Additionally, none of these three tests provides the driver’s exact blood alcohol concentration (BAC), so they are not definitive evidence that the driver is impaired. Some people do fail these tests while sober for many reasons. If you believe you have failed field sobriety tests while sober, the knowledgeable attorneys with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC may be able to assist you.
What Fails a Field Sobriety Test?
Field sobriety tests rely on a driver’s ability to perform physical activities, an officer’s ability to properly instruct the driver in how to perform those activities, and the officer’s ability to properly interpret the driver’s performance. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and therefore, for a driver to fail even if they are sober. Failure could lead to arrest and a DUI charge.
A few reasons that a driver could fail a field sobriety test include:
- Being 65 or older
- Being overweight
- Having knee, back, or inner ear problems
- Other medical or physical conditions that affect balance or eye movements
- Attempting to take the tests while wearing high heels (Officers should instruct drivers to take off high heels before testing)
- Incomplete, incorrect, or confusing instructions or demonstrations from the officer
Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
Field sobriety tests are covered under Title XXI of the New Hampshire Statutes. Title XXI, governing motor vehicles and their use, states that by having a driver’s license and operating a motor vehicle, the driver has consented to any physical or chemical sobriety tests that law enforcement may ask of them. The same law also states that the law enforcement officer must have a reason to believe the driver is impaired before seeking their cooperation with a field sobriety test.
Some drivers may still choose to refuse a field sobriety test when asked. If a driver is considering a refusal, they should understand the potential consequences of this decision. Refusing a field sobriety test may mean:
- First refusal with zero DUI convictions: 180 days license suspension
- Second refusal with one or more DUI convictions: Two years license suspension
Should You Challenge Field Sobriety Test Results?
When facing a DUI charge, the greatest evidence against the driver is often the field sobriety tests results. This can make it seem like a good idea to challenge the results. If the driver can persuade the jury to question the accuracy of the tests, they may be able to avoid a conviction. Challenging the results of the tests may also weaken the prosecution’s case.
If a chemical test was administered and its results indicated that the driver was impaired, challenging the field sobriety test results may not make a difference and, in some cases, could even hurt the driver’s case. Drivers should consider consulting with an experienced attorney to learn about all their legal options before making any decisions regarding challenging test results.
What Is the Difference Between a Field Sobriety Test and a Chemical Sobriety Test?
A field sobriety test is a qualitative test administered by a law enforcement office on the roadside when they suspect that a driver is impaired. These tests measure the driver’s ability or inability to perform the physical actions asked of them. If the driver fails these tests, the officer may move on to a chemical sobriety test and possibly arresting the driver. However, there may be instances in which a driver cannot successfully complete these actions even while they are sober.
A chemical sobriety test is a blood, breath, or urine test. These types of tests provide a quantitative measure of the concentration, in the driver’s body, of chemicals known to cause impairment. They can also provide information about which substances may be involved. Chemical sobriety tests are considered to be more accurate than the qualitative field sobriety tests, but they can also be challenged.
Are You Facing a DUI Charge After Failing Field Sobriety Tests?
Field sobriety tests are a first step for law enforcement to determine whether a driver is impaired. The results of those tests are often used to try to convict the driver of DUI. However, these tests can be inaccurate for many reasons. Common examples include a driver having a physical or medical condition that prevents them from successfully performing the tests, or an officer giving incomplete or confusing instructions about how to perform the tests. If you are facing a DUI charge after failing field sobriety tests in Belknap or Carroll counties, the Lakes Region, or anywhere else in New Hampshire, consider consulting with the experienced criminal defense attorneys with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC by calling (603)707-4800.