The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) include: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn (WAT), and One Leg Stand (OLS). The validity of the SFST results, however, is questionable in almost every case. Officers have to administer the tests exactly as trained. Any deviation can lead to invalid results. Additionally, even if administered perfectly, the tests themselves are not perfect and they are not appropriate for many individuals who have had certain past injuries, medical conditions, advanced age, etc.
In theory, field sobriety tests are designed to simulate and evaluate your “divided attention” abilities; a critical skill when driving a motor vehicle. In reality, SFSTs are not really tests at all but are ridiculous gymnastic events that will usually result in your failure and the “results” will be presented to a jury or judge at the time of trial. The “tests” are highly subjective, are almost never conducted properly by police and are conducted under abnormal conditions. The SFSTs are NOT scientific and there are many people who, for many innocent reasons, cannot perform these tests to the officer’s satisfaction under any conditions.
Additionally, because these tests are judged by negative scoring techniques (i.e. you get points deducted if the officer thinks you did something wrong but you do not get points added if you did something right), it is possible that you could do everything right and still fail simply because the officer thought you performed the tests slowly or that you started the tests before he/she was completely finished explaining what to do.
The usual battery of SFSTs include:
The “Walk and Turn” where the subject is required to take nine heel-to-toe steps along an imaginary “line,” turns, and then takes nine heel-to-toe steps back to the place of start. This is usually conducted on the side of the road (which is usually sloped) with police flashers going (which cause a strobe affect) and with traffic running in both directions causing wind currents and headline glare. (It should not be surprising that someone is unable to complete this test satisfactorily.)
The “One Leg Stand” where the subject is instructed to stand with his/her heels together, arms at their side, and then told to raise one leg six inches off the ground while counting out loud until the officer says to stop. Again, this test is conducted under the same absurd conditions as the “Walk and Turn” making it unlikely that anyone can pass. If you raise your arms for balance, sway, hop or put your foot down … you failed. (How often to you ever have to keep your balance without being able to use your arms?)
The “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus” test where the officer will position an object, usually a pen or his/her finger, 12-15 inches away from the subject’s face and moves the object from side to side while watching the subject’s eyes for the ability to track and/or the involuntary jerking of the eyeball which is supposed to be an indication that the subject has consumed some amount of alcohol. Among the several problems with this test are that a large percentage of society experiences nystagmus naturally or may have it as a result of various medical and physical disorders or prescribed or over the counter drugs; the test requires that the officer use precise distances and angles in order to assure it is conducted properly and no officer ever uses any type of measuring devices (i.e. rulers or compasses) to accurately measure what they are testing.
(There are several other tests but they are used very infrequently these days. These tests include the “Finger to Nose,” reciting the alphabet backwards (can anyone even do that sober?), counting tests (being asked to count by various denominations like “count by 7s – again, no one can do it sober) and some others.)
One additional test that does show up more frequently is the “Preliminary Alcohol Screening” test also known as the PAS or PBT test. This is the portable breath test and is supposed to determine the presence of alcohol. It is an extremely dangerous test because it is not accurate but the courts will allow it to establish the content of your breath alcohol and thus, your guilt of the charges. THIS TEST IS NOT THE BREATH TEST THAT IS REQUIRED BY THE IMPLIED CONSENT LAW and although the police are supposed to tell the subject that, they rarely do. You may (AND SHOULD) refuse to take the roadside breath test.
WHAT DO I DO IF I AM ASKED TO TAKE A FIELD SOBRIETY TEST?
According to the DUI / OMVI / DWI laws of the State of
Suffice it to say that your response to the officer is that you will not agree to submit to the tests. If the officer asks “why not?” your response is that you want an attorney present before you take any tests so that you can discuss your “concerns” about the tests. (This leaves the reasons for not taking the test wide open at the time of trial: i.e. was one of your “concerns” an old football injury to your knees? Were you tired from a hard day’s work? Did you have the flu? Do you suffer from migraine headaches that may be activated by strobe light conditions such as the police flashers? The “concerns” are endless and you have a right to talk to counsel before taking the roadside tests! It is better to develop the reasons at trial than try to think of one at the arrest site! If the officer asks you what your "concerns" are, you should NOT tell him/her. Just say that you would prefer to discuss them with an attorney.
If for some reason you have already taken one or more of the SFSTs, you need an experienced drunk driving attorney like Dennis P. Levin, who knows how to counteract the damaging evidence that the police officer will produce as a result of those tests. Proper cross-examination of the office can usually help a jury to understand the faults and problems with the tests and the manner in which they are given and that just because a police officer says so, it does not mean that a person was driving drunk.