What Is Involved in Field Sobriety Testing?

Have you failed in field sobriety testing? Chehimi Law can help you fight your charges and get your life back on track. Call us today.

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What Is a Field Sobriety Test?

Field sobriety testing is a method of assessing a driver’s intoxication level. This is usually done at DUI checkpoints to determine a driver’s physical and mental impairment levels to operate a motor vehicle. It also measures their ability to maintain balance, coordinate, and multitask while on the road.

Law enforcement officials use a variety of field sobriety tests (FSTs), including the one-leg stand test, walk-and-turn, and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Failure of field sobriety tests might not prove intoxication. However, they can indicate probable cause prompting the officer to investigate further, leading to an arrest and a DUI charge.

Consider contacting an experienced DUI lawyer from Chehimi Law for evaluation and advice if you were arrested after failing a field sobriety test.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests for DUI Cases

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes three standardized field sobriety tests designed to identify intoxication responses from drivers. The officer should instruct the driver on performing a field sobriety test.

The three tests include the following:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN Test)
  • Walk-and-turn test (WAT)
  • One-leg-stand test (OLS)

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

During this test, an officer holds a small object about twelve inches from the driver’s face, such as a pen or flashlight.

They then move the object across the driver’s line of sight. The officer instructs the driver to focus on the moving object while standing. If the driver’s eyes jerk more than usual, they are deemed to have a higher-than-average blood alcohol concentration level.

Walk-And-Turn Test

In the walk-and-turn test, the police need the subject to take heel-to-toe steps in a straight line while counting out loud. They then turn around and take the same steps back.

The importance of the test is to identify the driver’s ability to divide attention. Besides maintaining balance, the drivers should be able to follow instructions on the number of steps to be taken, when to turn, and counting out loud.

The officers use the test to grade the driver on certain clues, including:

  • Lack of balance
  • Starting pace
  • Stopping while walking
  • Failure to touch heel to toe
  • Stepping off the line
  • Balancing with arms
  • Making improper turns
  • Counting the number of steps incorrectly

The One-Leg-Stand Test

During the one-leg stand tests, the officer instructs the driver to stand on one leg, raising the other approximately six inches off the ground. The driver then may be instructed to count to a specific number simultaneously.

Law enforcement officers use this test to look for the following clues to determine intoxication:

  • Swaying
  • Balancing with arms
  • Putting the leg down
  • Hopping

How Does Field Sobriety Testing Help in DUI Investigations?

An FST is used to determine probable cause to make a DUI arrest. The police consider the performance in FSTs before arresting or releasing a DUI suspect.

Thus, during DUI investigations, officers use the tests to determine the following:

Prove Impairment

There are two types of DUI charges, DUI less safe and DUI per se. To pursue a DUI per se charge, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) should be 0.08% or above. For commercial drivers, the legal limit for BAC is capped at 0.04%. The BAC levels prove that the suspect was driving under the influence.

For a DUI less safe charge, chemical tests such as breath, blood, or urine samples are not necessary. On the other hand, the officers use field sobriety tests to determine whether the driver is intoxicated. So, if the driver fails the test, the prosecution can prove impairment in court. However, a criminal defense lawyer can challenge the results of these tests by citing reasons for the poor performance.

Show Probable Cause

In DUI investigations, police rank FST performance higher than some other factors. Suppose a defendant argues about an unlawful arrest due to insufficient evidence or probable cause. The arresting officer can testify using the defendant’s FST result.

In that case, the arrest will be lawful due to probable cause. If the facts support the claim, the defendant’s arrest becomes lawful. Some of the factors that determine probable cause include:

  • The smell of alcohol inside the car
  • The driving pattern
  • Manner of speech
  • Driver’s appearance

Eligibility of FST Performance

In some cases, an officer’s FST observation can be ineligible evidence in court. Therefore, the judge might require a professional’s testimony on the relevance of the FST results. They may need to know how the FST impairment proof gives evidence of intoxication.

Can I Refuse to Perform a Field Sobriety Test?

FSTS are voluntary; therefore, if you refuse to take them, it is not legally punishable. There are no legal requirements for people to submit to field sobriety tests. This legal position has become stronger in light of the 2022 judgment passed by the Supreme Court of Georgia in the case of Ammons v. The State.

In this case, the Supreme Court of Georgia clarified that the defendants are entitled to decline an officer’s request to perform field sobriety tests. Additionally, the Court ruled that the fact that a driver refused to take a field sobriety test is inadmissible as evidence.

Can You Challenge a Field Sobriety Test Result?

If charged for failing a field sobriety test, you can challenge the results in court. Depending on the evidence, your attorney can get the court to dismiss the charges against you. The attorney can even attempt to get your charges reduced to a lesser offense.

Your attorney can challenge the result of the FST based on the following factors.

  1. Reliability of the test results.
  2. Circumstances of administration of the tests by the police officers.
  3. The mental and physical condition of the driver.
  4. Use of non-standardized field sobriety tests.
  5. Nature of the DUI arrest.

Have You Failed a Field Sobriety Test? Contact Chehimi Law Today!

Are you facing drunk driving charges and want to contest the field sobriety test results? At Chehimi Law, our attorneys are ready to defend you against DUI charges in Georgia. Whether convicted with 1st or 2nd DUI charge, our lawyers have the right defense strategy to represent you.

Facing criminal charges can put your future in jeopardy. That’s why you need the right criminal defense lawyer from Chehimi Law to represent you. Knowledgeable and dependable, we provide customized legal representation tailored to each client’s unique needs. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.


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