DUI Roadside Tests / Field Sobriety Exercises
In the State of Florida, when you are pulled over by a police officer and he suspects you are driving under the influence, he will ask you to perform what are called Field Sobriety Exercises (FSEs) or Roadside Sobriety Tasks. These voluntary exercises are supposed to be designed to help the officer determine if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol, by measuring your coordination, balance, and cognizance.What Are the Standard Field Sobriety Tests?
There are three field sobriety exercises that have been approved by the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration (NHSTA). These tests are:
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: The officer will ask you to look at an object (usually a pen or flashlight) and follow it with your eyes while he moves the object up and down, and left to right. The test is designed to measure involuntary eye movement, such as shakes or jerks, called nystagmus. It can be an indication of inebriation, which is why it is used for DUI tests. Due to its scientific nature, only officers who are certified to testify about the HGN test may present evidence of the test in court.
- The One-Leg Stand: This test requires that you stand on one leg, lift the other leg approximately 6 inches off the ground, and count to 30. It sounds easy, but if you wobble, put your arms out, lower your foot, sway, or otherwise indicate that you are unbalanced, the officer can and will use this as evidence that you are intoxicated.
- The Walk and Turn: This exercise requires that you walk nine steps, heel-to-toe, in a straight line, turn and repeat. The officer will check to see if you can follow instructions, keep your balance, walk in a straight line, take the correct number of steps, and if you turn correctly.
- Other: In addition to the main three tests outlined above, there are also other various tests that an officer might ask you to perform, such as reciting the alphabet, counting backwards, or other balance tests.
Although these tests have been “approved,” that does not mean that they are 100% accurate, nor does it mean that the officer instructing you on the exercises is competent to do so. There are many problems with field sobriety tests, and a Palm Beach County DUI Defense Attorney can fight your charges by arguing the unreliability of such subjective measurements. Field sobriety exercises are extremely subjective and depend on a lot of elements, from physical maladies, to the weather, to the officer’s mood that day.
With regard to the specific tests:
- HGN: The officers are looking for nystagmus to determine whether you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, nystagmus is not always an indicator of impairment – it also a side effect of strokes, brain tumors, impaired vision, multiple sclerosis, recent head injuries and sedative use. Performing the HGN can lead to false DUI charges and convictions if you do not have a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney.
- One Leg Stand: The test is highly inaccurate if you are a senior citizen, have a disability, have inner ear problems, and/or you are more than 50 pounds overweight. Furthermore, whether there is enough light in the area and whether you take the test on a hard, flat and dry surface are factors that may decrease accuracy as well.
- Walk And Turn: As with the One-Leg Stand, this test is much less accurate if you do not perform it in a well-lit area on a flat, hard, and dry surface. If you are over 65, over 50 pounds overweight, have a disability, are tired or have inner-ear issues, the test can give the officer a false perception that you are intoxicated.
Field sobriety exercises are administered by law enforcement officers whenever they pull someone over, or stop someone at a DUI checkpoint, and have reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "Reasonable suspicion" is completely subjective in these cases. Weaving, changing lanes without a blinker, and speeding can be enough for an officer to pull you over. Field sobriety tests are completely voluntary, although it is unlikely that the officer will inform you of this. Any Palm Beach County DUI Defense Lawyer will tell you that it is best to decline performing field sobriety tests due to their subjective nature. In other words, “no evidence” is better than “evidence” against you. There are many mistakes that you can make while performing DUI sobriety exercises, even if you have had nothing to drink, that will give the officer evidence and lead to your arrest. If you choose to take the field sobriety tests and fail in the eyes of the officer, you will be arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI). In this situation, it is imperative that you remain silent and only speak in order to ask for a West Palm Beach Drunk Driving Attorney.
When you are facing DUI charges in Palm Beach County, you need to contact a Palm Beach Drunk Driving Attorney. The Law Offices of Roger P. Foley provides dedicated defense to clients in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and the surrounding areas.