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Field Sobriety Tests

You have your reasons for driving home after a night of drinking. Regardless of whether you didn’t want to leave your car in a lot overnight or pay for another ride home, it makes very little difference to a police officer who pulls you over. If you do get pulled over, there are a few methods the officer will perform to determine whether you’re driving under the influence of alcohol. These are collectively known as field sobriety tests (FST). Regardless of your blood alcohol content, it’s normal to wonder whether there are any defenses to field sobriety tests.

If you’ve been pulled over under suspicion of DUI and are concerned about the validity or results of a FST you submitted to, contact a Fresno DUI attorney at Mike McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today. Call us at (559) 443-7442, or reach out online to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.

Field Sobriety Tests

If a police officer suspects you have been drinking and driving, there is a specific DUI testing procedure an officer will follow. This is known as a standardized field sobriety test. The FST is a combination of three separate tests that determine your apparent level of intoxication. The results can then be used to establish whether there is probable cause to arrest you and/or charge you with a DUI. The three FST methods include:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN)
HGN is a medical term for the involuntary jerk your eye does when you move it from side to side. Normally, you would have to turn your eye almost all the way to one side for HGN to occur. However, if you’re intoxicated your eye may twitch before the usual HGN would occur. Alcohol consumption decreases how smooth your eye moves. That being said, the twitch or HGN becomes more noticeable when you have higher levels of alcohol in your system.

To perform the HGN test, the officer will ask you to follow a slow moving object, such as a pen, while only moving your eyes. They will be observing your eyes for several indicators of intoxication, including:

  • Whether you can follow the moving object smoothly
  • Whether your eye jerks continually when turned as far as it can go
  • Whether your eye begins to jerk when turned less than 45 degrees

If these factors are present four or more times between both of your eyes, this could indicate that your blood alcohol content (BAC) is likely to be .08 percent or higher.

If you’ve performed an HGN test and are concerned about its results or administration, call a DUI lawyer today. At Mike McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer, we can review the circumstances surrounding your test, and inform you of possible defenses to field sobriety tests if your case calls for them.

Walk and Turn Test
To take a walk and turn test, the officer will instruct you to take nine steps. These steps must be heel-to-toe, and in a straight line. After you’ve completed them, you have to turn around on one foot and then take nine more steps in the opposite direction. During the test, an officer will be observing you and looking for eight signs of impairment:

  • Difficulty balancing while you’re listening to instructions
  • Beginning to walk before the officer finishes giving you instructions
  • Needing to stop and regain your balance while walking
  • Not touching your heel to your toe
  • Using your arms to keep your balance
  • Not walking in a straight line
  • Taking more or less than nine steps
  • Making an improper turn before taking your second nine steps

If the officer observes two or more of these factors, it suggests your BAC is .08 percent or higher.

Knowing possible defenses to field sobriety tests is important if you’ve performed and failed a walk and turn test. To learn more, contact a DUI lawyer at our firm today.

One-Legged Stand Test
As the name might suggest, during the one-legged stand test you’ll be instructed to hold one of your feet about six inches off the ground. You’ll then have to count using the “one thousand” method until the officer tells you to stop. The officer will be looking for two or more of the following behaviors to establish probable cause of intoxication and driving under the influence:

  • Swaying on your foot while you count
  • Using your arms to balance
  • Hopping to maintain your balance
  • Putting your raised foot down

Exhibiting two or more of these behaviors during the test is an indication your BAC is at least .10 percent and over the legal limit.

Do You Have to Take a Field Sobriety Test in California?

You may decline a field sobriety test without any legal consequences. Even if an officer threatens to arrest you and take you to jail you have the right to refuse. However, you should be advised that California observes an implied consent law concerning licensed drivers. This means that when you accept a California driver’s license, you are giving your legal consent to undergo a chemical test in the event of DUI arrest. If you refuse the field sobriety test, the officer may legally require you to undergo a chemical blood test to determine your BAC.

Possible Defenses to Field Sobriety Tests

If you fail an FST, you’ll probably be interested in some possible defenses for your failure. There are many circumstances and reasons why a sober person taking an FST could fail. For example, you may fail an HGN test if you have an eye condition or take certain medications. Similarly, poor road conditions can impact your ability to stand on one foot or walk a straight line. Your test performance can also be negatively impacted if you’re stressed, fatigued, overweight, or advanced in age. As a general rule, the officer is supposed to ask you whether there are any reasons you may be unable to perform the tests. Studies have shown that FSTs are accurate in predicting BAC approximately 91% of the time. However, it is important to remember that failing your field sobriety test doesn’t 100% guarantee your BAC is above the legal limit.

Field Sobriety Test vs. Breathalyzer

If an officer stops you and has probable cause to believe you’re driving under the influence, they can administer and require you to take a breathalyzer test. Probable cause for DUI suspicion can include failing your field sobriety test or declining to take one. While you are entitled to decline an FST, refusing to take the breathalyzer test will result in legal consequences, including:

  • Fines
  • Possible suspension of your license
  • Incarceration if you’re convicted of a DUI

If you failed the field sobriety test but passed a breathalyzer test, your chances of avoiding a DUI are higher. The results of the breathalyzer test and your BAC at the time of your initial stop may help you get your charges reduced or avoid charges completely.

Contact Us Today to Learn More About Defenses to Field Sobriety Tests

If you’re in the Fresno area and have questions regarding DUI defenses, contact Mike McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today. Our team understands the law governing DUIs in California, and can help you avoid confusion. To schedule a free and confidential evaluation of your case, contact us today at (559) 443-7442.

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