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Standard vs. Non-Standard DUI Field Sobriety Tests

Jul 03, 2017 by Mike McKneely in DUI

Believe it or not, the sobriety tests you see cops give drivers in movies and TV shows are not always accurate. Inexperienced writers and directors have fictional police officers asking drivers to recite the alphabet backward or hop on one foot ten times. The cinematography makes these scenes look and feel official, but there are only certain field sobriety tests officers should be giving potential drunk drivers. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has only standardized three such tests for use by police.

If you are pulled over and given a test other than one of these three, then you should contact Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer at (559) 443-7442 immediately. We will seek to have any charges based on non-standardized sobriety tests dropped. If prosecutors choose to move forward with DUI charges against you, we will work hard to make sure that evidence from non-standardized tests is not admitted to the court.

NHTSA Standard Field Sobriety Tests

There are only three standardized field sobriety tests:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): When people are sober, their eyes normally move from side-to-side smoothly and only exhibit a jerky motion at extreme angles. However, scientists have discovered that when people have been drinking alcohol, their eyes have jerkier movements. Horizontal gaze nystagmus is the name for this involuntary jerking of the eye. To look for this movement, officers will hold up a pen or small flashlight and have you follow it from side to side without moving your head. By asking you to track the object, officers can look for whether your eyes can follow the object smoothly, whether there is any distinct jerking, and whether your eye consistently jerks prior to being at a significant angle. If you exhibit at least four or more signs of HGN between your two eyes, then there is a high likelihood that your BAC is .08 percent or higher.
  • The walk and turn: A police officer may want to observe your balance, coordination, and cognitive functioning, if they believe you have been drinking. They may ask you to walk nine steps, touching each heel to the other foot’s toes, in a straight line. At the end of the nine steps, you should turn on one foot and return in the same way. The officer will look to see if you can follow directions accurately and without prompting, whether you take the proper number of steps, whether you have to stop and start during the process, whether you lose your balance, whether you need to use your arms to balance, and other signs of inebriation. If you exhibit two or more indicators during this process, there is a probability that you are over the legal limit.
  • The one-leg stand: You may be asked to stand on one foot with the other approximately six inches off the ground and count out loud starting with one thousand until you are told to stop. The officer will be looking to see if you sway, use your arms to balance, hop to keep your balance or put your foot down. If you exhibit two or more of these behaviors, you are likely to have a high BAC.

Standardized Tests Are Not Perfect

While these three standardized field sobriety tests have been tested and found to be highly accurate in determining when a driver is over the legal limit, they are not perfect. These tests can lead to false positive results and an unwarranted arrest for DUI.

Some of the things that can go wrong and lead to your wrongful arrest include:

  • Police officers improperly administering or scoring the tests
  • Lawful prescription or over-the-counter medications impacting your eye movement and balance
  • A medical condition impacting your sight and eye movement
  • A medical condition affecting your balance
  • Your age and physical capabilities
  • Your footwear
  • The roadway or ground you are asked to walk or stand on
  • The environmental conditions, such as if it is raining or snowy

You Do Not Have to Consent to Field Sobriety Tests

You may have heard of California’s implied consent law. This law states you must submit to a warrantless breath or blood test or you will face suspension of your driving privilege. However, this law does not apply to field sobriety tests. If you are pulled over, an officer suspects you of drunk driving, and then asks you to perform one of more of these field sobriety tests, you have every right to say no. Politely tell the officer that you will not perform any field sobriety tests.

Were You Arrested for a DUI?

If you were given field sobriety tests and then arrested for a DUI, contact our Fresno criminal defense attorneys at Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer right away. We will go over your experience moment by moment to determine whether you were given standardized or non-standardized tests. We will then investigate whether these tests were given and graded properly by the police. We will also thoroughly review the situation with you to determine all the reasons why the officers wrongfully identified you as inebriated.

Whatever your situation or previous driving record, we are here to help you mitigate the potential consequences of a DUI conviction. Call us today at (559) 443-7442 to learn more about defending against DUI charges.

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