Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

Often, in order to determine if a driver is intoxicated, a police officer will have the driver perform a number of Field Sobriety Tests. These Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are used by law enforcement to obtain probable cause thereby allowing them to initiate a breath or blood test.

There are three FSTs that officers commonly utilize during a DUI investigation: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and the One-Leg Stand (OLS). These are the only three field sobriety tests endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administrations (NHTSA), thus they are referred to as "Standardized" Field Sobriety Tests.

Although considered standardized, these tests have been widely criticized as designed to fail. There are many factors that can affect a driver's performance on the FST's: age, injury, or disease, an uneven surface, poor footwear, eye conditions or diseases that affects their ability to follow the object, etc. Any of these factors could lead an officer to improperly conclude that you are impaired. Even under perfect conditions a sober driver would have difficulty passing these tests.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

This is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs when the eyes move from side to side. The test requires the driver to look forward at a small object, usually the officer's finger, pen, or a small flashlight and follow the object with their eyes as he moves it side to side. The drivers head is to remain still during the test. Officers look for three indicators of impairment when administering this test:  1) an inability to follow the moving object smoothly; 2) distinct eye jerking when the eye is at maximum deviation (the point at which the eye has moved fully to one side); and 3) whether the jerking of the eye is within 45 degrees of center.  

Walk-and-Turn

This tests the driver's ability to complete tasks with divided attention. Law enforcement officers believe that the inability to perform a task that requires divided attention is a sign of intoxication. During this test, the driver is instructed to walk, touching heel-to-toe on each step, along a straight line, turn, and walk the straight line back to the start. The officer will look for several indicators of impairment: 1) if the driver cannot keep their balance; 2) walking before the instructions are finished; 3) stopping in the middle of the test; 4) failure to touch heel-to-toe; 5) steps off the line; 6) takes the wrong number of steps; and 7) makes an improper turn.

One-Leg Stand

This is also a divided attention test.  The driver is instructed to stand with one leg in the air approximately six inches off the ground while counting to a certain number. The officer looks for indicators of impairment, including: 1) swaying; 2) difficulty counting; 3) using their arms to keep balance; and 4) putting the foot down.

An experienced DUI attorney will be able to show how difficult these tests are to pass, even sober, and what factors the officer failed to take into account when administering the tests.

For more information: Field Sobriety Tests

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