Northern California DUI Field Sobriety Tests
If you are pulled over by an officer who suspects you are under the influence of alcohol, you may be asked to perform a series of exercises known as field sobriety tests, or FSTs.
While these activities may seem rather meaningless, they are one of the most common tools used to identify drunk drivers. As a result, you may be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) if your performance does not meet the officer’s guidelines or expectations.
Field sobriety tests are designed to evaluate a driver’s balance, coordination, and attention based on his or her ability to perform certain tasks—such as standing on one leg and/or walking an invisible line. Although there are dozens of FSTs, only three have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for use in determining a driver’s level of impairment: the one-leg stand, walk-and-turn, and horizontal nystagmus tests.
To perform a one-leg stand test, you must stand with one foot slightly elevated (about six inches) off the ground for thirty seconds. While doing this, you will be required to count aloud for the duration of the test. If you use your arms for balance or show other signs of impairment—such as swaying or hopping—you may be arrested and charged with DUI.
In the second test (the walk-and-turn), you will be instructed to walk a straight line with one foot placed heel-to-toe in front of the other. After taking nine steps forward, you must then pivot and return to your original starting point. Once again, if you attempt to use your arms for balance, or are unable to maintain your balance, you can expect to fail the test and be arrested for driving under the influence.
The third and final test is known as the horizontal nystagmus test. During this procedure, the officer will dangle a small object (such as a pen or flashlight) directly in front of your face to look for signs of nystagmus—an involuntary twitching of the eyes commonly seen in impaired individuals. If your eyes jerk back and forth, or you are unable to follow the object, you will most likely be deemed intoxicated.
It is important to know that while field sobriety tests are designed to help officers identify DUI suspects, their results are far from reliable. Because there are no standard criteria for determining whether a person fails or passes the tests, their results are extremely subjective. Plus, in light of the fact that the person who is grading you already suspects you are under the influence, you are even more likely to fail.
Due to the unreliability of FSTs, the tests are completely voluntary under California law. However, many drivers do not realize this at the time they are tested—which means many unwarranted arrests are made as a result.
If you were recently charged with drunk driving after failing one or more field sobriety tests, it is important to discuss your case with a highly skilled and qualified DUI defense attorney immediately.
Please call our office today at (707) 571-8600 in our centrally located Santa Rosa office in Sonoma County or call our office in San Rafael in Marin County at (415) 492-4507 to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation.