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Field Sobriety Tests

Arrested for a DWI/DUI after failing the Field Sobriety Tests?

Following an arrest, many people facing DWI or DUI charges believe that they cannot fight their charges. This is false! At Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias, we fight to exclude the often unfair, unscientific evidence against you obtained from field sobriety tests, working to increase the likelihood of a reduction or dismissal of your charges. We understand that this is a confusing, difficult time, and we’re here to help.

Law enforcement would have you believe that every person who is pulled over and questioned on suspicion of a DWI/DUI is guilty. More often than not, by the time that a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of DUI, they have already made up their mind. When they question you and administer the field sobriety tests, they are not determining whether or not you are sober: they are gathering evidence to use against you. In addition, law enforcement will likely fail to tell you that, unlike Breathalyzer and blood tests, the field sobriety tests are completely voluntary.

When you are first pulled over, it might be difficult to refuse to the tests. Again, the police officer will probably “forget” to mention that the tests and voluntary and that failing them will lead to your arrest. The officer will likely make you feel as though you have to take the tests. However, you can–and should–refuse. While you must, by law, take a breath test or risk losing your driving privileges, you do not face the same consequences for refusing the field sobriety tests. Unless you are completely positive that you are not intoxicated, we recommend that you not agree to take the field sobriety tests for these reasons. Agreeing to take the tests and then failing will only provide proof of your guilt to the officer, even if you failed the tests due to non-alcohol-related factors.

Law enforcement would like you to think that every person who fails the field sobriety tests was driving under the influence; however, this is not the case. The field sobriety tests are extremely subjective, and law enforcement is likely conducting them under the assumption that the person they pulled over is not sober. In fact, the field sobriety tests are only accurate 66% of the time when predicting intoxication above .10 percent. These results of the tests can be skewed by the officer’s training and by other factors, making them unfair and unscientific.

The three most common field sobriety tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk and Turn, and the One-Leg Stand. In each of these tests, the officer looks for certain clues to determine whether or not you are sober–and has complete discretion when doing so.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus:

During the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the officer waves a pen back and forth in front of your face and visually measures how smoothly your eyes track the pen. In this test, the officer guesses how many degrees your eyes jerk from side to side when following the movement of the pen. This test is designed to determine sobriety; however, irregular eye movements that indicate intoxication can also be caused by other things: certain physical or medical conditions, or other substances, for example.

Our attorneys can cross-examine the arresting officer on his findings from the tests, striving to discredit the test results.

Walk and Turn

During the Walk and Turn test, the officer gives detailed instructions telling you to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a line, turn, and walk the line in the same manner. The test is supposed to measure how well you remember instructions as well as how well you can balance and walk.

If you exhibit two or more of the eight possible “clues” to impairment that the officer is measuring, the officer will likely record that you are impaired. However, many people find this task difficult when sober! Being tired, distracted, anxious, or simply having poor balance normally can all attribute to failing this test.

One Leg Stand

Like the Walk and Turn Test, the One-Leg Stand test measures balance. The officer asks you to stand with your arms at your side and with one legal lifted approximately six inches off of the ground. You are also told to look at the raised leg and count until 30 seconds have passed and you are allowed to stop. The officer will record if you sway, use your arms for balance, hop, or put your foot down as signs of impairment. Again, many people find this kind of balancing exercise difficult when not intoxicated.

If you have been arrested and are facing DWI or DUI charges, contact the experienced attorneys at Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias. We will aggressively fight your charges and work to exclude unfair results from the field sobriety tests. We examine the video evidence of your tests and look for mistakes that the police officer may have made. We also review the procedure and results of your breath test to find a way to exclude this evidence. We strive to get a reduction or dismissal of your charges so that you can avoid the severe consequences of a DWI/DUI conviction.