Field sobriety tests are tests that are given at the time of the traffic stop to a DUI suspect in order to determine whether they are significantly impaired for the purpose of determining whether there is probable cause to arrest them for a DUI. Below, a Culpeper DUI lawyer discusses these tests and how they are administered and then used in court. To discuss how the results of a field sobriety test may impact your case, call and schedule a consultation today.
There are three common field sobriety tests which are used in combination with each other.
The first is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test; this is actually a medical test that involves the officer holding a pen or another object in front of the suspect’s eyes and then moving the pen to the periphery of their vision on either side while watching for whether the eyes track the object smoothly or whether there is significant bouncing or motion in the eyes as they attempt to track the object, particularly at the furthest points of deviation from the center of view.
The next test is the nine-step walk and turn, which most people know is a walk the line test. This involves taking nine steps and turning on one’s heel and then taking nine steps back. Police on this test are looking for whether a person starts before they’re instructed, whether they touch heel to toe on each step, whether they keep their hands by their side, and whether they are able to make the turn at the end and take the appropriate numbers of steps forward and back.
The final test is the one-legged stand test, which involves keeping one leg on the ground and raising the other foot a slight amount off the ground while counting. Some officers will have an individual count to 20, others will have them count to 30. What they’re looking for in this test is whether the individual is able to maintain balance, whether their hands come up to help with balance, and whether they are able to count at the same time.
There is a very specific way in which each of these tests needs to be administered. These are tests that were developed by the National Highway Transportation Board and each of them has certain instructions that are given and a certain number of clues which police are looking for. There was a significant study that was conducted using these tests in a particular way and the study found that if there were a certain number of clues on each test, this correlated strongly with DUI. If the tests are not conducted properly, or if the instructions are not given properly, then the results of that given test may not have very much value in court, because they were not given under substantially similar conditions to the tests that were given during the study.
These tests can carry significant weight at a DUI trial depending upon the strength of the officer’s testimony. If an officer is able to testify convincingly that they performed the tests correctly and that the suspect failed the tests or showed a certain number of cues on each test, then that would be significant evidence not only of probable cause for an arrest but guilt on a DUI.
If, however, they did not administer the tests correctly, have a bad memory, or are not strong in their testimony, then the tests can lose weight in a trial setting and this can result in the case being dismissed in some cases.
Law enforcement officers in Culpeper County do use field sobriety tests in a number of unique ways. State police in Culpeper County almost always use Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus in combination with a nine step walk and turn and the one legged stand. Other law enforcement agencies sometimes use these tests, although we also see them using a variety of other tests such as the finger dexterity test, a touching one’s nose test or even counting the alphabet backwards test.
A person absolutely can refuse to perform field sobriety tests in Culpeper County or anywhere. A person has the right not to incriminate themselves and they have an absolute right to not cooperate with the police and to not take the tests.
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