What is a field sobriety test?
Field Sobriety Tests are preliminary tests used by police officers to determine if a driver is impaired. The tests assign tasks that assess the driver’s balance, coordination, and ability to divide attention to more than one task during the field sobriety test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approves three field sobriety tests applied nationally. The tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand Test.
How are field sobriety tests are performed, and what is being tested?
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus –
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test involves following an object with the eyes, typically a pen or light. The test is meant to identify any involuntary “jerking” of the eyeball. The “jerking” of the eyeball is natural when the eyes are rotated at high rates of speed. However, the jerking can be more exaggerated and more frequent when a person I intoxicated. The administering officer will be looking to see any:
• Distinct jerking of the eyes when the eye is all the way over to the side with no white showing.
• Any jerking of the eyes occurring prior to a 45-degree angle from the nose.
• The driver’s eye does not follow the object smoothly
If four or more clues appear between the two eyes, there is a 77% chance they have a BAC of 0.10 or greater, according to the NHSTA.
Walk and Turn –
Involves walking in a straight line, heel-to-toe, for nine steps as instructed by officers, then to turn on one foot and return down the line in the opposite direction for nine steps. During this test, the officer will be looking to identify seven indicators of impairment, including:
Begin walking before the instructions are finished
Not keeping a steady balance while listening to the instructions
Not touching heel-to-toe
Losing balance while turning
Stopping while walking to regain balance.
Not counting the steps while walking
Taking an incorrect number of steps
Using arms in order to maintain balance
If the driver exhibits two or more of the above indicators, there is a 68% chance they have a BAC of 0.10 or greater, according to the NHSTA.
One leg stand test –
Involves standing on one foot and lifting the other foot six inches in the air. The officer asks the driver to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count from 1,001 (one-thousand-one, one thousand two, etc.) until the officer says to put the foot down. During the next 30 seconds, the officer looks for these four indicators:
• Hopping to maintain balance
• Putting the foot down
• Swaying while balancing
• Using arms to balance
If the driver exhibits two or more of the above indicators, there is a 65% chance they have a BAC of 0.10 or greater, according to the NHSTA.
Why are field sobriety tests used?
Some government studies have shown that when a field sobriety test is correctly administered and graded, there is an increased indication of alcohol impairment. Most of the time, multiple tests are performed during a stop to provide a more accurate outcome. If a driver has enough indicators on the field sobriety test, the arresting officer has probable cause to obtain a breath test, typically through an alcohol breath test. A roadside breath test result above .08% breath alcohol level gives probable cause for the officer to arrest the driver for driving under the influence. Field sobriety tests are not considered minorly intrusive, and statistics show a high correlation between failure and driving under the influence. These studies have contributed to the overwhelming support and use of field sobriety tests as a non-intrusive measure to evaluate if a driver demonstrates probably cause for further testing.
Can I or should I refuse a field sobriety test?
Field sobriety tests such as are not compulsory and can be refused without legal consequence. Additionally, handheld portable breath tests can be highly inaccurate and are also not compulsory. You cannot be penalized with a license suspension or other criminal consequence for refusing to submit to a portable breath test or field sobriety test. However, refusing to take an alcohol breath test of your breath, after your arrest has negative consequences if you refuse, such as license suspensions. These tests can be affected by a variety of irrelevant factors, which could make them unreliable or cause drivers to be more susceptible to show signs of alcohol impairment. If not required by law to do something, there is typically no reason to do it. However, this does not mean that a police officer cannot still place you under arrest and administer a breath test.
Enlist the Help of a Qualified Attorney
When you are searching the state of Mississippi for a qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney, look no further than Vic Carmody Jr., P.A. Over the years, we have helped countless defendants who have been charged with driving under the influence. Please book your free consultation today, and we can help you defend yourself in the unfortunate scenario of being arrested and charged with driving under the influence.
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