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Common Field Sobriety Tests & Why They Are Not Reliable

In order to land a suspicion for driving under the influence (DUI) arrest, law enforcement officers often depend on the results of a field sobriety test (FST). Due to the nonintrusive methods of an FST, highway patrol officers can conduct them without needing a warrant, so it is usually the only thing they can do if they are not sure if an arrest is justified or not. However, just because you are asked to take an FST does not mean you should always comply.

In general, an FST is only used to “prove” intoxication, not to determine sobriety. That is to say, they are not created and conducted in your favor at all. If you did take and fail an FST, though, do not worry excessively about it, for the results of an FST are infamously unreliable and an experienced DUI defense attorney may be able to easily challenge it.

Common field sobriety tests and why they are unreliable:

  • Backwards alphabet: The officer will ask the suspect to recite the alphabet from Z-to-A. Although this challenge seems simple, it is actually fairly complex. Our brains are wired to identify patterns and memorize certain procedures. Learning the alphabet is a groundwork form of memorization strengthening, so it becomes firmly ingrained in our minds in the correct order. Trying to flip it is confusing, and it is not any indicator of whether or not a participant is drunk.
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test: The officer will shine a light into the eyes of the suspect and slowly wave the tip of a pen or pencil around. The suspect needs to try to follow the pen tip as best they can with just their eyes, meaning no head or neck movement. If you move your neck too much or your pupils shake, the police use it as an indicator of intoxication. The problems with this FST are quite obvious, as it is extremely irritating to have a light shone in your eyes and a pen waved right in front of them, resulting in a number of natural reactions that could be misconstrued as intoxication.
  • One-leg stand: The officer will tell the suspect to stand on just one leg for an extended period of time, usually up to one minute. The twist is the suspect is not permitted to use their arms for balance. The one-leg stand is quite an unfair FST in that it does not consider someone’s physical limitations. Many people may experience genuine discomfort or pain from this test, making it impossible for them to complete. This does not mean they were intoxicated.
  • Walk-and-turn: Lastly, the walk-and-turn FST involves the officer instructing the suspect to try to walk a line as straightly as possible, one foot in front of the other, turn around sharply at the end, and walk back, all without the use of their arms. In addition to the test not considering possible physical limitations of the suspect, it also overlooks the unevenness of the ground. A field sobriety test will happen curbside, which means you could be told to trek along a rough, dirt-covered patch of ground that makes it unreasonably difficult to walk a straight line, especially in the dark.

Santa Rosa DUI Defense Attorney – (707) 418-5352

The Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. is the steadfast defender for the rights of the accused throughout Santa Rosa. Our criminal defense attorney has the experience and insight needed to effectively challenge the result of any field sobriety test. With Attorney Zelig in your corner, the prosecution will have to think twice or three times if they intend on using FST-based evidence to your case.

Get more information about our services and your rights in a DUI defense case by contacting our law firm today.